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Disgusting mess or description of the challenge

Meatball Sundae
by Seth Godin
2007 Portfolio

The answers are: Yes. Yes. No. Yes.

The questions are: Is Seth Godin’s book, Meatball Sundae, thought-provoking? Yes, absolutely. Is it entertaining? Yes. Is he right? No, at least not in the underlying premise which drove the title. Should you read this book? Yes, with an understanding of why the underlying premise is wrong.

Forget everything you know!?

Godin suggests that “new marketing” is completely different and marketers need to forget what they think they know. He cites 14 trends as justification for this premise. Each of the 14 trends is individually accurate, engagingly presented and leaves the reader with some very important things to think about and act on. In fact, some of these trends raise new challenges and demand wholly new thinking. Taken together, however, they do not make a compelling case that “new marketing” is entirely new. In fact, for longtime practitioners of database marketing nearly half of the trends will sound very familiar. Many of them are what have brought database marketing closer to the mainstream in the last decade. Those of us who have fully embraced a customer-centric, customer-knowledge-driven approach to marketing, sales and service have been practicing for years the things Godin suggests are necessary to address the trends. So relax, not everyone needs to rush out and get a lobotomy in an effort to “forget everything they know.”

Close the factory!

The second part of our cautious recommendation is what drove the title. Godin uses the creative, if gastronomically repulsive, metaphor of a meatball sundae. He calls the products and services most companies produce commodities, like the meatball. He says growth doesn’t come by producing meatballs. “New marketing”, on the other hand, is like whipped cream and a cherry, according to the author. It’s a collection of techniques that offer a huge payoff where growth is concerned. They only work for companies that “stop making meatballs and start making something that goes very well indeed with hot fudge and marshmallow sauce.”

True customer-focus

There are two problems with this all-or-nothing position. First, if we are truly customer-focused and driven by customer knowledge, we know that some customers want meatballs. If we can find them and communicate only with them about meatballs, we can make money selling meatballs. Other customers need the whipped cream. The same customer-focused/knowledge driven approach identifies these folks, or allows them to identify themselves, and we can meet their needs. In reality, most customers need both meatballs and whipped cream but infrequently want them together. You guessed it. The same customer-focused, knowledge-driven approach makes it possible to offer both profitably.

A steady diet of meatballs or whipped cream isn’t good for the person eating it, or the one serving it. A balanced approach, employing what we learn from Godin’s 14 trends and others, are most of the ingredients for a long, healthy life. Read this book because he has most of the details right, you’ll be enlightened by many of them and it’s a good read. 

Meatball Sundae
By Seth Godin
2007 Portfolio

232 pages, $23.95

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