The Web-2.0, No-Bull-Shiitake Marketing Test by Seth Godin


I read the best explanation of what makes an idea spread in Seth Godin’s new book: Small is the New Big.

For an idea to be spread, it needs to be sent and received.

No one sends an idea unless:

  1. They understand it.

  2. They want it to spread.

  3. They believe that spreading it will enhance their power (reputation, income, friendships) or their peace of mind.

  4. The effort to send the idea is less than the benefits.

No one “gets” an idea unless:

  1. The first impression demands further investigation.

  2. They already understand the foundation ideas necessary to get the new idea.

  3. They trust or respect the sender enough to invest the time.

Notice that ideas never spread because they are important to the originator.

Notice, too, that a key element in the spreading of the idea is the capsule that contains it. If it’s easy to swallow, tempting, and complete, it’s far more likely to get a good start.

What a great test for design and marketing efforts. All you Web 2.0 entrepreneurs, hook yourself up to a polygraph and see if you pass it. And Seth, I salute you!

By | 2015-03-17T09:55:45+00:00 August 4th, 2006|Categories: Innovation, Marketing and Sales|25 Comments

About the Author:

Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva, an online graphic design tool. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He is also the author of The Art of Social Media, The Art of the Start, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur, Enchantment, and nine other books. Kawasaki has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.


  1. Innovation Zen August 5, 2006 at 1:37 am - Reply

    You can not force users to spread your idea unless it makes sense for them to do so just like you can not force customers to use your innovation unless it solves a task they were already trying to perform.
    Should be straight forward but many companies and managers fail to follow this simple rule.

  2. Mike August 5, 2006 at 2:18 am - Reply

    I disagree with parts of your comment. There have been lots of products that were successful because they inspired an entirely new “need”. Walkman? iPod? VCR? What existing task did these products help anyone solve? Were huge numbers of people trying to record television shows before the VCR or did the VCR inspire huge numbers of people to record shows and rent movies? Before the iPod were huge numbers of people desperate for an iPod-like device or did the arrival of the iPod stimulate the desire? Just a question.

  3. August 5, 2006 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Spreading a Message

    Guy Kawasaki writes a summary of Seth Godins new book: Small is the New Big. He quotes someones summary of the book being:
    For an idea to be spread, it needs to be sent and received.
    No one sends an idea unless:
    1. They unders…

  4. Mike Peter Reed August 5, 2006 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Most “ideas” such as VCR, Walkman, iPod etc either start out in the film/broadcast industry or with the military.
    Small is the new Big? Hasn’t miniaturization been the rage for the last 100 years? That’s new? Hardly. All things are cyclic. The human brain has not evolved in 2,000 years … which explains why Roman ideas are still considered “new.”
    The word is about, there’s something evolving,
    whatever may come, the world keeps revolving
    They say the next big thing is here,
    that the revolution’s near,
    but to me it seems quite clear
    that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating
    The newspapers shout a new style is growing,
    but it don’t know if it’s coming or going,
    there is fashion, there is fad
    some is good, some is bad
    and the joke is rather sad,
    that its all just a little bit of history repeating
    .. and I’ve seen it before
    .. and I’ll see it again
    .. yes I’ve seen it before
    .. just little bits of history repeating
    Some people don’t dance, if they don’t know who’s singing,
    why ask your head, it’s your hips that are swinging
    life’s for us to enjoy
    woman, man, girl and boy,
    feel the pain, feel the joy
    aside set the little bits of history repeating
    .. just little bits of history repeating
    .. and I’ve seen it before
    .. and I’ll see it again
    .. yes I’ve seen it before
    .. just little bits of history repeating
    Don’t you think if you’re going to accuse people of using old ideas, you should credit the Propellerheads for the lyrics you put in your comments?

  5. John Dodds August 5, 2006 at 7:14 pm - Reply

    Minor yet major amendment.
    No-one SHOULD send an idea unless:

  6. Nat August 5, 2006 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    No one sends an idea unless they understand it? That’s not true. Aside from all the people who don’t know what they’re talking about, there are those who know they don’t know, and so ask questions. Implicit in those questions is the idea they don’t understand and are asking about.

  7. Eddie Baki August 6, 2006 at 12:16 am - Reply

    Typical Marketing Gurus: Immutable laws for everything. Funny thing is that all those examples they always cite never bothered to look up these laws, because these “laws” came into effect after the success of the examples cited.
    Another funny thing about those grand Gurus: None had any groundbreaking ideas. They just point to them. Once a guru babbles about something, it is outdated and obsolete. New ideas happen, and then Gurus try to extend them to everything in life.
    My immutable Law? Make your own rules and see what happens…

  8. Precipice August 6, 2006 at 10:30 am - Reply

    Viral! Spread! Word Of Mouth! CGM!!!

    by way of Guy Kawasaki – a post about Seth Godins new book – Small is the New Big offers this quote from Seth about how and why ideas spread.
    No one spreads an idea unless:
    They understand it.
    They want it to spread.
    They believe …

  9. Richard A. Muscat August 6, 2006 at 10:47 am - Reply

    I’d say that Seth is the antithesis of the “marketing gurus” you’ve been lambasting. I’ve read some of his stuff and I think that he makes it pretty clear that he’s not making “immutable laws”.
    When someone like Seth says “Noone sends an idea unless they understand it” it doesn’t mean that they will *never* send it… it just means that it’s easier for her to send it if she *does* understand it. These kinds of insights should be extremely useful to anyone developing new products since instead of trusting to blind luck and “making up my own rules” I can put some effort into pushing my offering in the right direction.
    I can still make my own rules but if I can figure out what worked (or didn’t) for others–and WHY–that’s surely usefule. Just because Google were lucky in that they plunged ahead just doing ‘search’ without a business model doesn’t mean I can’t learn from them… which is what Skype successfully did. Their business history is a mirror image of Google and I hardly think it’s coincidence.
    What Seth and others say about marketing isn’t “immutable” — but they’re some hella good pointers in avoiding pitfalls!
    Thanks Seth & Guy 🙂

  10. 12gurus (the blog) August 6, 2006 at 4:00 pm - Reply

    Our purpose

    The first thing we share with clients is that we dont (just) design products, media or services: we design stories. These stories are then told through those mediums.
    Why? Because stories spread. Society is built on stories – every individual an…

  11. David Mould August 6, 2006 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Small today works because it’s easier. It’s much easier to reach your target market with cheap and often free tools; blogs are a great example. I agree it’s not a new idea but it should lead to a revolution. I work for a big company but despite the numbers and the work we make small progress. The reason is the market is changing faster than big companies can react, think of the average corporation being like a super tanker, how long does that take to change direction?
    The long and the short of it is small works today because when you send the people who are listening already understand it, your market is already listening to the right tune.

  12. Chuckk Gerwig August 6, 2006 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    Also, some people will also send an idea , even at great personal cost because they truly believe it will enhance the lives of others / society in a ultra-positive way. This can happen even when there is no benefit to the sender 🙂

  13. eMarv August 6, 2006 at 10:01 pm - Reply

    Regarding David’s comment that small today is a lot easier, here’s an idea (not my own) that we should all be concerned about to ensure that the small continues to be easier, check out
    Let’s not let the monopolies charge even more for the internet! Ciao!

  14. Dead2.0 August 7, 2006 at 12:03 am - Reply

    15 years of tubes

    Just saw today on Richard MacManus blog that the Web is (sorta) 15 years old today.  Congrats WWW, well done. I think its especially exciting to reminisce about the days before Web 1.0 and 2.0.  Back when you could see a TV commercial f…

  15. Enterprise Velocity August 7, 2006 at 10:17 am - Reply

    How Ideas Spread: Is Your Messaging Worth Spreading?

    Guy Kawasaki has written a great summary of Seth Godin’s philosophy on what makes an idea spread.It boils down to this: An idea never spreads because it is important to the originator of the ideaTo continue spreading, an idea has…

  16. Francisco Fernández August 7, 2006 at 10:33 am - Reply

    What makes an idea spread

    I read in Guy Kawasakis blog a great explanation of what makes an idea spread. Its taken from Seth Godin’s new book: Small is the New Big.

  17. 800-CEO-READ Blog August 7, 2006 at 11:42 am - Reply

    Ideas: Get them moving.

    How? Guy Kawasaki’s summary of a piece in Seth’s latest: For an idea to be spread, it needs to be sent and received. No one sends an idea unless: They understand it. They want it to spread.They believe that spreading…

  18. dmp August 7, 2006 at 10:57 pm - Reply

    Uh…who the heck cares about an idea? Isn’t the end product more important to be spreading around.
    Who pays for an idea? Heck even Hollywood will only pay for a script, which is the intial product of an idea.
    This post seems like a bunch of marketing navel gazing that doesn’t to anything of value.

  19. Joe Caropepe August 11, 2006 at 10:39 am - Reply

    How Ideas Spread

    Guy Kawasaki posts what he regards as the best explanation of what makes an idea spread as written by Seth Godin in his book, Small is the New Big. Although Guy is coming at this from a VC and marketing perspective (especially as it applies to Web 2.0…

  20. Paul Elosegui August 11, 2006 at 1:56 pm - Reply

    In his “Unleashing the Ideavirus”, Seth even comes up with an equation for the viral potency of your idea.
    Seth keeps refining in every book

  21. Lee Hopkins August 11, 2006 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    You sometimes have to remind them they have a headache before they take the aspirin — sometimes they are so used to living with the pain it blends into the fabric of their life

  22. Patrick August 12, 2006 at 6:54 pm - Reply

    How about spreading this idea…
    “To know and not do, is the same as not doing”.
    There is an old

  23. Hear 2.0 August 21, 2006 at 4:19 pm - Reply

    How to Spread your Virus

    From Seth Godin via Guy Kawasaki: For an idea to be spread, it needs to be sent and received. No one sends an idea unless: They understand it. They want it to spread. They believe that spreading it will enhance

  24. Jamie September 18, 2006 at 11:08 am - Reply

    A Tenant’s Guide to Renting
    The first challenge every tenant faces is finding an apartment for rent that suits their individual needs. For today’s tenant, the most effective apartment search can be done using an online apartment finder. Tenants should decide what they require in an apartment or house rental before beginning their search. For example: the number of bedrooms, location or distance from public transportation and how much the tenant can afford to pay in rent, furnished or unfurnished apartment, etc. By making these important decisions first, tenants can avoid renting an apartment or house only to regret it later. Many tenants today are taking advantage of the convenience of the internet to locate apartments for rent as opposed to the traditional print publications.
    Once a possible apartment or home has been found, it is the tenant’s duty to thoroughly inspect the premises making a commitment in the form of a security deposit. A tenant should not rely on the landlord or the landlord’s agent to tell the tenant if anything is wrong with the property. The tenant must inspect the property carefully and ask questions about it.
    Inspecting the condition and functionality of the following areas/features of the apartment before committing yourself as a tenant is highly recommended.
    1. Kitchen appliances in working order.
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    4. Walls and ceiling painted or papered without cracks
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    BEWARE OF EXISTING DAMAGES: In order to avoid being blamed for damages that already exist in the rental unit, the cautious tenant should take every step for self-protection. Before moving in (or as soon as possible thereafter), the tenant should make a list of all existing damages and repairs that need to be made. A copy of the list should he presented to the landlord and attached to the lease This way the landlord cannot blame the tenant for damages caused by others and the tenant will know what the landlord intends to repair. If the tenant keeps good records the landlord will not be able to keep the tenant’s security deposit for damages that were actually caused by others. Taking pictures before moving in is also strongly recommended.
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  25. André Hedetoft September 30, 2006 at 3:08 am - Reply

    Mm. To quote Seth “Things worth talking about will get talked about”. With a little luck and something in it for the one that talks about it that’s one-hell-out-of universal truth.
    André Hedetoft
    Just created a game where you get to play with my real life over at

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