Nepali Times
Softly, Softly on Internet marketing


Imagine my surprise the other day when something came through the post that wasn\'t a bill, an irrelevant press release or the announcement of the nine millionth internet conference this year. It was a cutting from Fast Company magazine of an article by Seth Godin called "Unleashing the Idea Virus", a serialisation of his book of the same name. Godin is something of a minor deity among the internet marketing community. He is a Stanford graduate who set up his own direct marketing company, Yoyodyne, which was bought by Yahoo! in late 1998. He then worked for Yahoo! helping their marketing effort, and, in May 1999, released his first book: Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers.
This argued that most advertising is about interrupting people. They watch TV, so you put an ad in the middle of the programme. They open their post so you send them a direct mailshot. They walk down the street, so you chuck a poster at them. Wherever they run, there is no escape.
Permission marketing is less about shouting at people, and more about starting a conversation with them. It is about gradually getting people\'s permission to speak to them, and from then on having a much closer and more commercially useful relationship.
The internet, and in particular email, is the perfect medium for this. As proof of how it works, if you go to his site ( and send in your email address, he will send you the first four chapters of the book. The start of a beautiful relationship.
As with many business books like this, there is plenty of stating the obvious (and Godin leans heavily on previous work by his co-author Don Pepper), but in a world where each week sees yet another tumble after spending millions on posters, press, TV, bus- sides and sandwich bags, it is a pleasantly subtle and intelligent read. The new book deals much more with the stage before this-
how do you get to ask for people\'s permission? The basic theory is that great ideas are contagious, like a virus, and as a marketer your real challenge is in getting people to spread that virus for you-a group he calls "sneezers".
The search engine Google is a great example of this. It came late to the market and did not spend a fortune on marketing-immediately breaking two of the venture capitalists\' golden rules of internet success. However, word came out of Silicon Valley that it was really rather special, early adopters took to it, and it is now not only the coolest search engine to use, but has also been taken up by Yahoo!, thereby making it the most popular.
Godin proves his theory by the way he has promoted his book. As is standard practice it is serialised first (this time in Fast Company), which allows for plenty of word-of-mouth (or postal) transmission. Then it gets really smart. You can download a copy of the book for free from his website ( You can even download a copy for your Palm organiser and beam it to friends (well, in theory, as I\'ve crashed two people\'s Palm Vs trying it). As a result, the word has spread apparently effortlessly, without the usual clumsy efforts of advertising, marketing and PR folk.
A month before the book has even been published it is among the top 1,500 best-sellers at remarkable achievement given that it is a business book costing $40, and that anyone can download the lot for free.
There is nothing new in the idea of "sneezers". Levi\'s for example has spent much of the past 15 years getting early adopters to wear its products by throwing the coolest of parties and sponsoring various style mags and bands (see the Levi-clad UK garage outfit the Dreem Teem on the cover of Dazed & Confused as current evidence).
And Godin is not the first person to promote a book like this. A similar strategy was used by the authors of the Cluetrain manifesto (, another shot across the bows of traditional business practice that spread globally.
But the virus idea is truly wonderful only on one crucial condition-it has to be done well. Done badly, like a real virus, the effects are at best invisible, and at worst disastrous. And this is why, as much as I rather like Godin\'s work, it does somewhat fill me with dread. Not that anything he says is particularly wrong, but you can sense copies of the book appearing all over town and thousands of hamfisted interactive advertising wizards going idea virus mad and unleashing an epidemic or outright mediocrity on an undeserving public.
So download a copy of the book today, but if you simply do everything it says, then you\'ve missed the point of what it\'s all about.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)