The Barone Godin Smackdown: Is the Torch Being Passed?

Passing the Torch
Passing the Torch

I enjoy reading Seth Godin and Lisa Barone so I found their recent smackdown compelling.

For anybody who missed it:

  1. Godin launched Brands in Public where he puts up a page for each brand highlighting what’s being said about them on the web. To gain control of your company’s page you can pay Godin $400 / month. There’s also a hard-to-find opt-out to get the page removed (free) [this opt-out may not have been there during the launch — it certainly wasn’t prominent or publicized].
  2. Barone took her acerbic wit and condemned Godin for Brandjacking. Her strongest accusation IMO was that since Godin’s pages would rank well companies would be forced to pay up to protect their brands.
  3. Most of the leading lights of the SEO community, including Danny Sullivan and Matt Cutts (the head of the Google Anti-Spam Team) sided strongly with Lisa.
  4. Godin finally followed the only course open to him … figuring out how to spin his surrender.

This has been covered to death, but 2 quick points that I haven’t seen:

  • Barone and Godin both present themselves as Branding Gurus, and in the branding sphere, Godin is a legend. But ultimately this battle was fought in the SEO space where Barone far outshines Godin in both knowledge and relationships. Godin keynotes business of software conferences, but Barone is part of the inner circle of the SEO gods.
  • Barone accused Godin of abusing the power vested in him by search engines to get high rankings for his sites’ pages. Once the head of Google’s anti-spam unit endorsed Lisa’s position, Godin had no choice but to back down.

The irony of the last point is too strong for me not to mention, even though it’s already been covered.

Godin pitched his product as “a place where searchers will find the conversation as it stands right now, along with you and your brands response.” And yet by not allowing comments on his blog, he lost any chance to influence the conversation. Unfortunately for Godin, Google launched SideWiki the same day, allowing people to have a conversation on Godin’s blog anyway, just in a way that Godin couldn’t influence (I bet Godin wished Google would have taken $400 / month to let him control that conversation). Barone on the other hand allows comments on her blog, and has 161 comments on this post (so far), and used the control to answer almost every commenter. Added benefit for Barone: she gets the SEO value of her site’s comments. Godin just watches from the sidelines as his rejection of UGC (in the form of comments) on his site just forced the conversation off his home turf.

I know it’s easy to get carried away from a single episode, but this gave the feeling that the torch was being passed to the new champion and the new generation, the one that came of age after the dawn of SEO and Social Media.

Godin is a legend. He sold his first social company to Yahoo! for $30 million back in 1998. He’s written best sellers. People I’ve worked with speak of him as the god of marketing / branding. Joel Spolsky wrote of him “If you’ve ever heard Seth speak, you’ve had your mind blown. Which is why, on the rare occasion, when he runs a one-day seminar, he charges $1650 to attend, and it sells out in seconds.”

He’ll remain interesting and relevant for a long time. And yet … as Spolsky has said, we’re living in a world where some websites (like Spolsky’s Stack Overflow) have to consider Google to be their home page. And suddenly you have to ask yourself whether or not Barone is better positioned in this brave new world. Interestingly, @thisissethsblog has over 10,000 followers, about 4,000 more than @LisaBarone. But Godin isn’t following anybody. His Twitter account is just a one-way broadcast of his latest blog posts. Barone seems to live the Godin ideal far better than he does. She engages her community, and lives in the inner-circle of the SEO Twitterverse.

I’m too old to refer to Godin as “so 1998” and I’m sure the man has plenty of good decades left. But this smackdown was the new generation stepping further onto the stage. And I think this generation makes the branding world a lot more interesting.