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Q&A With Seth Godin: Loyalty’s Turning Points, Having a ‘Purple Cow’

$html.esc($author.firstName) Biank Fasig By Lisa Biank Fasig on August 12, 2015

After decades of striving to create personalized relationships, loyalty marketing has lost its humanity, argues marketing virtuoso Seth Godin. In this Q&A, which originally appeared as part of COLLOQUY’s 25th anniversary issue, he shares loyalty’s challenges and turning points.


Ask Seth Godin what’s missing from loyalty today and the answer will have less to do with its history than its lack of presence.

The marketing expert and author of 17 best-selling books, including “Linchpin” and “Purple Cow,” contends that loyalty marketing has turned into a profit center. As a result, millions of loyalty members are responding like most any commodity would: by selling their business to the next highest bidder.

“What’s missing from every loyalty program that fails is the same thing: Would they miss you if you were gone?” said Godin, who also founded several companies, including Yoyodyne and Squidoo.

Godin was among a select group of loyalty leaders and visionaries who shared their own insights into the industry’s evolution for COLLOQUY’s 25th anniversary issue. Following are edited excerpts from his Q&A.

COLLOQUY: Describe what to you was a critical loyalty turning point. 

Godin: I think that permission marketing*, which was so controversial when it came out 16 years ago, was a game changer. For the first time, marketers not only had a word for what they were trying to do, but they had a guiding principle.

What’s missing from every loyalty program that fails is the same thing: Would they miss you if you were gone? I can’t tell you how many key rings, cards and code numbers I’ve refused to sign up for. It’s clear that in each case, someone is doing this because it’s their job, not because they actually want to earn the right to deliver anticipated, personal and relevant messages that people care about.

If you could do one thing over again, what would it be?

I’ll answer for the industry, because I wouldn’t personally do anything over, even the mistakes, because otherwise I wouldn’t be me. Anyway, (it’s) the race to the bottom in email marketing – the incessant spam, the refusal to self-regulate. Marketers have ruined the greatest medium they’ve ever had.

What does a customer loyalty strategy require to be remarkable, or a “purple cow"? 

Make something worth talking about. (That’s) easy to say, hard to do. 

What do you think consumers miss or don't see regarding the loyalty relationships?

They miss the fact that companies don’t care. At all. That the whole thing has been industrialized and productized and turned into yet another profit center. They miss being missed. They miss humanity. 

Build a loyalty starter kit. What three tools are essential? 

1. Build something I’d miss if you took it away;

2. Focus not on prizes or the transfer of value, but on recognition, on humanity, on people; and

3. Care more.

* Coined by Godin, permission marketing describes when the customer first agrees to receive marketing information from a company.

Meet The Author

$html.esc($author.firstName) Biank Fasig
Lisa Biank Fasig

The author of numerous loyalty industry materials – including COLLOQUY reports, case studies, bylines and books – Lisa uses her intimate knowledge of the loyalty industry to create authoritative content. With 18 years of reporting experience, most in business and specifically consumer behavior, Lisa is highly skilled at researching data and teasing out the trends. She reported at several daily and weekly newspapers. Lisa earned her bachelor's degree in graphic design from the College of New Jersey and holds a master's in journalism from Kent State University.

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