83. Seth Godin – Differentiation: How to Make Your Law Firm a Purple Cow

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A year ago, we talked to Seth Godin, legendary marketer and entrepreneur, about how to apply his philosophies to your practice. In 2021, that discussion is more relevant than ever, so we’re releasing a new cut of this episode, with even more insights from Seth and Chris.

Seth will change the way you think; not just about marketing, but people, communication, and how the world works. He is an elite entrepreneur and the author of 19 best-selling books, including The Dip, Purple Cow, and, most recently, This is Marketing. He is a prolific blogger and has written over 7500 blog posts. In 2013, Seth was one of just three professionals inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and five years later he also earned a spot in the Marketing Hall of Fame. He teaches a variety of workshops, including his life-changing altMBA program, and hosts the renowned Akimbo podcast.

Transcript

Seth Godin

A long time ago, when you set out to be a lawyer, you probably weren’t seeking to become a 10 figure contingency lawyer. You had some other change in mind and it is still possible.

Chris Dreyer

Some marketing experts can help you improve your efficiency or introduce you to new tools, but only a select few can change how you look at the world itself.

Seth Godin

If you could figure out what justice even looks like. Because justice is not about cash. Justice is about a whole complicated set of expectations and dignity and respect and creating restoration for people is so vitally important.

Chris Dreyer

You’re listening to Personal Injury Marketing Mastermind, the show where elite personal injury attorneys and leading edge marketers give you exclusive access to growth strategies for your firm. Seth Godin is a marketing legend. He’s an entrepreneur and author of 19 best-selling books, including his most recent. This is marketing. There are over 7,500 posts on his blog. He’s the only person in both the marketing and direct marketing hall of flame. He’s the only person in bolted, marketing and direct marketing hall of fame. Most of all, Seth is a great teacher and keen observer for humankind. We sat down with him to view the world through his eyes and see what we could learn. I’m your host, Chris Dreyer, founder and CEO of ranking IO. We help elite personal injury attorneys dominate first page rankings with search engine optimization, the forefront of marketing. It’s all about understanding people. So let’s get to know our guest here, Seth Godin, speaker, author, and entrepreneur.

Seth Godin

My mom wanted to name me, Scott and my grandfather stepped in, but if I was named Scott, no one would have ever found me on the internet. So it all worked out. I find

Chris Dreyer

that very hard to believe. So it’s like, Hey, let’s, let’s dive right in. And let’s talk about one of your earlier books. Purple cow. Mainly I wanted to talk about this because the industry I work in personal injury attorneys, that space, there are just a ton of regular cows. They’re just screaming on TVs. They’re just blasting out ads. First of all, in your words, what is a purple cow?

Seth Godin

Well, it’s super simple and easily misunderstood. A purple cow just means remarkable and remarkable. Simply means worth making a remark about, and it’s misunderstood because it’s not a gimmick. And it’s misunderstood because it’s not selfish, lots and lots of hardworking entities and individuals believe they deserve to be talked about and they can’t figure out why they’re not getting referrals and they can’t figure out why people aren’t rewarding their effort by talking about them. But that misses the whole point. People don’t talk about what you want them to talk about. They talk about what they want to talk about. And in the case of pie, it’s tricky because almost nobody wakes up in the morning saying, I wish I could hire a personal injury lawyer today. And so it’s not like you’re selling chocolate or something that is regularly consumed and that’s fine because you don’t need everyone to need a pie. You just need a couple people. And that would be plenty. The challenge that you have is the thing that you might think people want to talk about when they talk about what you do is probably not. The thing they actually want to talk about.

Chris Dreyer

So would you say maybe as a followup, that to maybe make yourself make the client, the prospective client, the hero, and not necessarily the attorney be the hero and show their accreditations or, or is it broader than that? About, is it. You know, where would you start when trying to analyze how to make your personal injury law firm remarkable?

Seth Godin

So, um, I think we need to, to jump forward to the book, uh, before my current one, which is called this is marketing. And in that book, I talk about the fact that people are acutely aware of who they’re affiliated with very aware of what their status is, vis-a-vis anybody else. And, uh, People fall into lots of different buckets. So why is it for example, that most promotion and marketing for personal injury lawyers seems so much more low brow. Then the work patent lawyers do, or the work that MNA lawyers do, it’s not because personal injury lawyers don’t work as hard, or they’re not as smart. It’s because the client doesn’t want to feel stupid. And so when the client sees that that person on the billboard is marketing themselves the way they would market themselves, there is this sense of affiliation there or. It could very easily be. And we see this in Texas a lot. If the lawyer is a superhero master of the universe, a bone crusher, well, at least they’re my bone crusher. At least they’re my superhero. So I do want them to be the center of the story because I am Jimmy Olsen, but I at least got Superman on my side, but that’s a different. Positioning in the marketplace, then dial one 800. I’m just like you and I’ll get you a million dollars. Right? And so you have to make choices as you work your way through this. And one of the choices as someone who just a witness to this, not really a participant, I’ll tell you a brief story of being a participant, um, is bragging about how much money you got. That might not be the first thing on the person’s mind when they’re choosing who they’re going to hire, because we’ve been trained to be skeptical. We’ve been trained not to believe bald face claims. And even if your claims are true, if the person doesn’t believe them, it’s worse than if you made them at all. And so there’s this complicated thing that goes on about am I being seen? Am I being respected when I talk about this? Do my friends look up to me or to my friends look down at me. What opportunity would I have to talk about this guy? I got to tell you if I told all my friends, I just made $10 million in a personal injury suit in many communities. That means they’re going to all ask me for money. And so since they’re all going to ask me for money, I’m probably not going to talk about it. And so again, there’s all these complicated bits of math that go on when people decide what they’re going to talk about. And we get up about that all day, but that’s my first riff on that. Yeah. And

Chris Dreyer

you immediately went right to Texas. What? I was thinking, Jim Adler, the Texas hammer, standing with the sledgehammer above the semi-trucks and he stood out. He stood out and he’s grabbed attention with that because he was different. One of the things that I think is interesting when it comes to differentiation. And I’d really like to get your thoughts on this is, and you’ve, you’ve stated this quote and I may kind of get this wrong here, but you’ve said the problem with the race to the bottom is you just might win. You keep learning second.

Seth Godin

Right? And in your industry, that happens all the time. Most people in SEO. Don’t even come in the first five, they come in the bottom 500 and if you’re going to spend a lot effort and you’re not going to be on the front page, it would have been better to spend no effort at all.

Chris Dreyer

Yeah. You’re, you’re dead on the second page to some degree. And it was kinda, I was kinda thinking about. Pricing models as a differentiator, not necessarily price the structure, whether it’s input, output, value, all the different models. So I kind of wanted to get your opinion here. Every personal injury attorney does contingency billing. You, you only pay if we win, you know, there’s free consult, we’ll take your case to trial and you don’t pay anything. Do you think there is a place for. Hourly or capacity building or, or possibly output, you know, you get this thing once you pay for it. Um, do you think that’s a method of standing out or differentiating?

Seth Godin

Yeah. So the problem that most personal injury lawyers face, which is not the problem, that many law firms itself to a general counsel face is your clients. Aren’t as informed as you are. And. It’s really unlikely that they’ve been through this three times before. Right. And it’s really like unlikely that if they had been through it three times before, they don’t have a fancy college degree from a fancy institution. And so. When you show up and say, this is going to cost five, 10, $15,000, $500,000, whatever the number is, they’re not busy saying, well, I can probably form a syndicate of people who will help me fund this thing and blah, blah, blah. They’re probably saying, well, I already don’t trust the process and I’ve already been injured. Hence the name of the activity. Um, no I’m trying to heal now. I’m not trying to expose myself to a big win. And so. It’s easy to see where contingency billing came from, which is all right, we get that. You don’t trust us. Uh, you don’t have to trust us, let us do this on your behalf. And if nothing happens, you have no harm, no foul, but again, we’re still back to this idea of, did you make me feel seen, did you help me heal my injury before the money came or didn’t come? Right. So I promise, I tell this story. So the version of the short version is. When I was at business school, uh, I bought a coops, uh, meat slicer at Macy’s to make a zucchini pizza. Cause I made a dinner for my roommates every night and, uh, I promptly cut off my finger. Uh, it was, it ruined the pizza. I mean, it’s not like Jerry Garcia or anything, but, uh, that was pretend. Um, but I definitely. Did damage. And I went to a personal injury lawyer, partly for the experience of it. And partly because I was aggrieved. And the first thing he said is, it’s a shame. You didn’t cut off your whole finger. Cause you cut off your whole finger. Then we could have gotten you a lot of money. And like, you didn’t get the joke. Didn’t understand why the typical person is even showing up. Right. And then he figured something out. He said, wait a minute. Where do you go to school? I was like, well, I go to Stanford. He said, I got a great idea. You’ll be the expert witness. So he’s probably establishing new jurisprudence in here and that the victim and the expert witness with the same person. But I testified as to the design of the Krups meat slicer. And I could demonstrate why I was poorly designed. So now it was all about my ego and that’s exactly what I was showing up for. Right. Because the extra a hundred thousand dollars he could’ve gotten, if he had played a different game, wasn’t what I was keeping score. I was keeping score of someone at Krups, made a mistake and I needed to be seen, and I needed to know they weren’t going to do it to the next person. And the intermediary at the law firm has an opportunity to start that cycle long before the jury goes out. But instead too often, they think like cogs in the system. And I’ll just add one other part of this riff, which is that, uh, often the victim of a personal injury. Is made to feel alone. They are separated from the people in their immediate circle who were not injured, but they’re also separated from other people who have been injured because that is the mindset of the legal system. The exception to that is a class action lawsuit, but even in a class action lawsuit, it’s rare that the victims get to spend a lot of time with each other. So one of the things I would consider doing, if I was a personal injury lawyer is I would regularly run classes and seminars to teach people everything I know not to close a sale, but to teach them everything. I know about a topic, because if I’m surrounded by other people, I feel safer. I feel seen, and I am more likely to want to avenge what happened to all of us, because people like to be part of a circle. And who’s organizing those circles. And one of the things an ethical attorney can do is organize those circles. Not because it’s going to get more clients, but because it’s going to help the people who got to work.

Chris Dreyer

One concept that Seth has written a lot about is the idea of the smallest viable market. Instead of trying to serve everybody and making something average, he suggests scaling down and creating an exceptional product for a specific niche, which is just big enough to run your business. I asked Seth if this was a strategy that he thought would work for personal injury attorneys.

Seth Godin

Oh, there’s no question about it. There’s no question in my mind, the thing is geography is less important than ever before. That if you passed the attorney’s office on your way to work every day and you needed an attorney? Well, that’s the one in my neighborhood. So there, there was a level of trust that came with that. But particularly if people are sheltering in place, but even beyond that, thanks to Google, geography’s a totally different thing. And the way you win SEO is not by winning the search for blog, but by winning the search for Seth. Right that the more specific the thing the person is searching for is the more likely it is you will win. And so what you want to do is create a reputation around a very specific thing, because that makes you more remarkable. If you know, I had a shoulder surgery when I was a teenager and the first time I got it done by a friends of my parents and he was a hack. And the second time on the other arm, I got it done by the doctor for the us ski team who did three shoulders every Wednesday. Right. So the question is, who would you recommend? It’s pretty brain dead, right? Dr. Leech three shoulders. Every Wednesday. That is remarkable.

Chris Dreyer

I, I think of it too. As you know, if you had an, a heart issue, you wouldn’t go to a general practitioner, you would go to a heart surgeon and it wouldn’t matter what the cost is. You would, you would willfully pay the heart surgeon to take care of you. The other thing, I just want to kind of continue to expound on this, that so many individuals, I find that they get scared about this because they think, you know, I need a larger market cap. Yep. I need to expand. I need to offer more practice areas. I need to expand my geography. And I remember reading in an interview. You did, you know, back in the day, There was this, there was this one individual, he sold oil and you went to Bob and he just needed to get his name out there because he was the guy. But now it’s so saturated. So what’s your thoughts on the whole market cap versus niching situation?

Seth Godin

I think the real reason that people seek. Bigger, uh, markets is because it lets them off the hook. If you say I do this, I do this, I do this, I do this. And if any of one of them doesn’t work, yes, you still got the other ones, but if you burn your boats, if you said, you know, I am the best J 17 sailboat skipper in the United States. And that’s all I know how to do is sell that boat. Well, then you better be good at sailing that boat. And so the, the thing is what does it even mean to be good at? Let’s just pick one off the top of my head, helping people who’ve had a leg amputated from diabetes. We don’t do arms. We don’t do anything else. Just legs. Just these people with justice. What would it mean to be good at that? It doesn’t mean you get the maximum reward every time. It means, you know, how to speak with confidence and authority, to someone who is in enormous amounts of emotional pain. That is why they came to you. And the money is just a symptom that they were heard, but the money is not why they came to you and too often attorneys, because they’re so obsessed with measurement. That’s all you’ve got measured on in school. What were your grade, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, get hooked on what is that thing that they’re measuring? That is not what your clients are measuring. And it would be really helpful if you could start thinking of them as patients, instead of clients.

Chris Dreyer

So it’s the result. The result is, and correct me if I’m wrong. Cause I heard you say this too. It’s it’s what would you pay for the key that opened the lock? Could you expound on that?

Seth Godin

Yeah, actually, um, I have a blog post coming out about this in a couple of days. Um, if you find a key lying on the ground, And you didn’t know what lock it fit. It would be worthless, worthless. Right. And in fact, years ago, friend of the family was staying somewhere and I was worried that he might get locked out. So I got one of those magnetic key holders and I put the extra key in and then stuck it to the electric meter four doors down because it didn’t matter if someone found it or not. And you didn’t know what house it was for. Other hand, if you have a door you need to open and a locksmith says for 200 bucks, I’ll open the door and you need to get in. You’ve happily pay that because that’s what you’re buying, not a key, but an open door. And so when someone comes to you with a problem, the fact that you’re parading around with a bunch of solutions is irrelevant. Unless it’s the solution they were looking for.

Chris Dreyer

That in addition to all of his other work, Seth hosts his own podcast, Akimbo, which he has said it’s about our culture and how we can change it. I wanted to know how to set view culture. And what would he change about the culture of personal injury law

Seth Godin

workplace culture is a symptom of, uh, Daily culture, where we live and like goldfish, who don’t realize there’s water. Most of us don’t realize that there’s culture. And so, for example, I don’t know how many years ago it became okay for a lawyer to charge a contingency, but they do. If on that day they hadn’t been allowed to then our world would be really different. When it came to this practice of law. Right. And don’t take that for granted that one little shift changed the culture. Well, you don’t have to want it to be changed that way. If you don’t want to, you could change the culture a different way. Right. That we take all of these things for granted that in England, the barristers wear wigs, they don’t wear wigs here. Well, that started a really long, long time ago. What does it mean? What would it mean to change it? What is it like to walk into a client meeting and not act like you’re a TV lawyer? What does it mean to walk into a client meeting? And instead of sitting on the other side of the table, the way lawyers are supposed to sitting on the side of the table, where your patient slash client is all of these little things, add them up. That’s the culture we live in, and you can either be changed by the culture, or you can change the culture. And my argument is. A long time ago, when you set out to be a lawyer, you probably weren’t seeking to become a 10 figure contingency lawyer. You had some other change in mind and it is still possible, and it will actually help you make a living, not hurt you, making a living. If you could figure out what justice even looks like, because justice is not about cash. Justice is about a whole complicated set. Of expectations at dignity and respect and creating restoration for people is so vitally important. And I’ll just finish my rant by pointing out most people who win the lottery do not end up at the jail and with more money than when they started, nor do they end up happier than when they started, because the government has decided it’s not their job to help people understand what this shift is going to do for them. Well, it could be your job. It could be your job to say, how am I going to treat the clients who I’ve achieved something for and how am I going to create a relationship with them going forward, where maybe I’m not enriched in the short run, but if I can create restoration in their life, the referrals alone will pay for it.

Chris Dreyer

That’s an incredible piece of advice. And I think if you. You know that they would be willing to reciprocate, even if you didn’t ask if you change their life. So if we were to give our audience a taste of the show, is there a particular episode that comes to mind that you would recommend them? Listen to first.

Seth Godin

The first season, I worked harder on every episode then any other season, uh, and the first episode in particular about PT, Barnum and the value, which is the stick they used to use outside to get people into the tent to see the bearded lady. Um, I think it’s totally relevant to the life of a typical personal injury lawyer. The question is, you know, what does it even mean to have a grand opening? Why does it need to be grand? And what does it mean if we put up a sign that says under new management, who’s that supposed to appeal to the people who it, the old management, right? Like all of these complicated things in our lives we take for granted are based on scarcity and information flow and, um, people who are bad at making decisions. And now because the world is so upside down, all of those things were upside down. And this is an opportunity for a lawyer who cares to show up with a different story in a different way to make a different change in the world.

Chris Dreyer

That’s incredible. I love that Seth. Let’s, let’s shift over some fun, uh, personal questions here, so I know you love to cook. What’s your favorite meal to cook your family?

Seth Godin

Well, I cook different things for different people sometimes for different things in one night. Uh, but I will tell you that every day for a launch, a Mockney doll, uh, with brown rice and maybe a farm raised egg sometimes with dosa. Um, but I guess I am both best known for the wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard.

Chris Dreyer

Oh, nice. Nice. Um, so the, that my next question is that many, many individuals ask you what you’re reading these days, but I’m going to go a little different direction. I’m going to ask you, what are some of your all-time favorite marketing books?

Seth Godin

Okay, well, uh, I stole an enormous amount of stuff from a book called the pursuit of wow. And it’s, CQL the Tom Peter seminar, both by the one and only Tom Peters, 25 years ago. Uh, I learned a lot from a book called the Republic of tea by three people, uh, will Rosenzweig and the folks who started banana Republic. It’s a stunning book, also really old. Um, Zig Ziglar’s secrets of closing the sale will teach you a lot about what to do with maybe some things not to do. Cause it’s a different era than it used to be. Um, the book debt by David Graber doesn’t feel like a book about marketing, but it is the book, the gift by Lewis Hyde. It’ll be tough sledding for people who aren’t used to reading academic books, but it’s magical and it will help you think differently. About engaging with others. And how about, um, Where did I put it? This book right here called constructive talks to pivot men. And it’s by a guy named Seth siders. Now, Seth, it might be the second, most famous author of business books that I know of named Seth. But the thing that to know about Seth ciders, in addition to the fact that he was probably in the mob is that he was Al Capone’s tax accountant. Wow. And you probably can’t find this book. You may have to wait until I bring it back into print it’s from 1920 something, but inside the book or all these brochures that you could take out and, and make copies of, they were memos. You could hand to your, uh, middle management to get them, to get your employees to do work. And what I find fascinating it was called the cider. Syndicate is. On one hand, it was incredibly manipulative. How do I just get our people to work harder? And on the other hand, it showed enormous insight into human nature. And how do we tell people a story that they will hear?

Chris Dreyer

Well, I’m definitely going to be going on the hunt for that book now. And we’ll see if I can find it just from a visual standpoint. They don’t make books like that anymore. It just looks incredible. So we got to talk about your new book coming out, the practice, shipping creative work, uh, it’s coming out November 3rd, 2020. So what’s it about and what inspired you to write it?

Seth Godin

So people think I write about marketing. I really write about humanity and I write about our ability to speak up and make things better. And I got to define what marketing meant. So I defined it as that. And what I have found is it doesn’t matter how many tactics I teach people. If the voice in their head sabotages them, they’re never going to do the thing they know they want to do. And the practice is about doing the thing, you know, you want to do it’s about shipping creative work. It’s about saying, yeah, I know that I’ve been following the leader for a long time, and I know what it was like to be a lawyer in 20. 10 or 2015, but someone’s going to invent what it’s going to be to be a lawyer. Now I’m going to do that work. It’s about the fact that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s about learning how to juggle. It’s about learning, how to draw an owl. It’s about the doing, seeing talent and skill it’s about rigor. Uh it’s about keeping promises and showing up

Chris Dreyer

credible. Yeah. And we’ll, we’ll link that up. And uh, so our audience can, uh, check it out and pre-order it. And, uh, I also, so when you spoke to Tim Ferris, you mentioned that you love the smell of coffee, but you don’t drink it. So I gotta to just ask you, is it because you haven’t tried good coffee? Is it because of this heavy dose of caffeine? So, so what’s the deal there.

Seth Godin

All right. So Chris, here’s the first thing to understand, do not challenge me on any affectation. That is acquirable because I will win. I have my own roaster in the basement and I get beans Fairtrade from Copa and the best fair trade green bean people. After I roast the beans, I have a really cool grinder. And then I have a 1974 new old stock Kremena, uh, hand Paul, uh, com as well. So I got all the toys for Sue. I got all the toys I love of coffee. Coffee does not love me. I’m too old, too. It’s not good for my stomach. And I only have two speeds and you don’t want to see the other one. So those are my two problems with coffee, but that doesn’t keep me from making it for anyone who’s willing to drink what I make.

Chris Dreyer

Absolutely good answer. Good answer. I might fail the cell, find myself drinking three to four cups of coffee. I just have to have, it’s the first thing I reach for in the morning after that glass of water. Uh, so one final question here, Seth, is there anything that you wanted to talk about that we haven’t discussed?

Seth Godin

Here’s the deal. I think the most important thing that doesn’t get discussed is enrollment. You’re used to doing things because you have to, you have to do it to get an, a, you have to do it because the judge said you had to do it. You have to do it because it’s in the bar. Continuing ed rules. Enrollment is voluntary. Enrollment says I am signing up to go over there cause I want to. And it has never been easier to learn stuff than it is right now. It has never been easier to lead than it is right now. It has never been able easier to find someone, look them in the eye and make them better than it is right now. But I can’t get you enrolled the only person who can get you enrolled as you.

Chris Dreyer

You gotta take action. You gotta, you gotta make it happen. And I think that’s just great advice. And, um, guys, we’ve been talking to Seth Godin, bestselling author and entrepreneur, Seth, where can people go to learn more?

Seth Godin

Uh, if you go to a kimbo.com, you’ll find my workshops in my podcast, AKI and B o.com. And if you go to set stop log, there are 7,500 free blog posts. Let me know when you’ve read them all and I’ll wait two more. Thanks. So much stuff. It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Chris.

Chris Dreyer

It’s such an honor to talk with Seth Godin. He’s such an insightful and charming person, just like he is on his blog. I think what will stick with me the most is his idea that you can either be changed by the culture or change the culture yourself. I think we can all take a step back every once in a while to, to interrogate why we do things the way we do. And we’d all be better for it. I’d like to thank Seth Godin for sharing his story with us. And I hope he gained some valuable insights from the conversation you’ve been listening to the personal injury marketing mastermind. I’m Chris drier. If you like this episode, leave us a review. We’d love to hear from our listeners. I’ll catch you on next week’s PIMM with another incredible guest in all the strategies you need to master personal injury marketing.

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