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Seth Godin: This is Marketing

Posted on 19 June 2020 by Chris Dann

Categories: Reviews and Synopses

Great book. Very interesting, very readable, very enjoyable. Whilst there is a tangible thread through the book, most of the core themes appear again and again and you might feel Seth is repeating himself from time to time.

I felt that there wasn’t much that was massively new in this book, but rather modern marketing wisdom which you’ve probably come across before, put across in a very lucid way.

Chapter 1 : Not Mass, Not Spam, Not Shameful

Marketing is no longer synonymous with advertising, no longer about bludgeoning people with your message and trying to make a quick buck.

In a connected world we need to engage with our market, identify our tribe and figure out how to offer them something of genuine value, then engage and refine further. This is marketing.

Chapter 2 : The Marketer Learns to See

Marketing is about making change happen. We can’t change everyone, so we have to focus on a core group, asking “who is this for?” and “what’s in it for them?”

At the heart of the culture of any group is the stories people in that culture tell themselves, status roles and “people like us do things like this”. Marketers work by bringing change within that culture, tapping into the stories and semiotics that already exist.

Chapter 3 : Marketing Changes People Through Stories, Connections, and Experience

“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill bit, they want a quarter-inch hole” could be better put as “People don’t want a quarter-inch drill bit, they want to feel safe and respected”.

Marketing is not about the product but about understanding the irrational forces that drive all of us, and how they work in the culture we’re marketing to.

To market we tell stories which resonate, make connections so that people feel part of something, and create experiences. Whether it’s using a product, making a donation or anything else, we are creating an experience and an opportunity to be part of something.

Do not assume that people you’re selling to are rational, well-informed, want what you want or know what you know. I’m not rational and neither are you.

Chapter 4 : The Smallest Viable Market

We can’t aim to serve everyone, we have to pick the core group who we will market to. Aim not to pick them on demographics or even on interests, but on desires, dreams and worldview.

Marketing makes subtle promises. A Tiffany diamond is not about the quality of the rock, but how it makes you feel and status. The unstated promise is “buy this and you will feel special, beautiful and part of the elite”. What promises are you making?

We have to be brave enough to create something that is not for everyone. By choosing a small, targeted niche to market to, we exclude 99% of people, but make something that will resonate perfectly with our chosen market.

Chapter 5 : In Search of Better

Accept that everyone is going around with their own concerns, cares, hurts, fears and dreams. There is no sense shouting our points to them and hoping to be heard, we have to empathise and walk in step with them.

There is no such thing as “best” except to a particular person or group. Aim to be the absolute best for your smallest viable market, and not worry about being right for anyone else. Position yourself at an extreme, being perfect for a few rather than ok for everyone.

Chapter 6 : Beyond Commodities

A commodity-driven approach is no longer enough. People will assume that your product or service works and that you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, fix that before trying to market anything.

What we need to do on top of product quality is to create stories and hold values that resonate with those of our market, making our target audience feel that they want to use us because of our alignment with their tribe and the change we’re making in the world.

At the same time we are here to serve. We can’t show up with our paradigm and try to force it on others in the name of authenticity. Whilst remaining authentic in our stories and values, we need to do our best work for others in the way they want it done.

Chapter 7 : The Canvas of Dreams and Desires

We need to appeal to the primary emotions, understanding that people’s primary drive in buying or affiliating with your product will be the desire to fit in in the right place, be reassured and respected.

Chapter 8 : More of the Who: Seeking the Smallest Viable Market

We need to focus on the sort of customer who will talk about us, refer us to their friends and use us again. Customers who won’t talk about us or come back are no use to us.

Growth happens through customer traction, through engaging with a small group and growing through constantly showing up and doing great work, nurturing the evangelists in our market. If you can’t succeed in small, you can’t succeed in large.

We won’t be right for everyone, ever. Our critics and detractors are always right. Our product really is useless, for them. Our show really was awful, for them. By identifying who exactly we’re trying to please, we release ourselves from trying to please everyone, and are free to do meaningful work.

Chapter 9 : People Like Us Do Things Like This

Everyone acts according to their internal narrative and tribal affiliation, best summarised as People like us do things like this. You might feel that people who are ‘like you’ do (or don’t) work in certain jobs, do or don’t drive a certain type of car, do or don’t donate money to charity, and so on. (Incidentally it was identified a long time ago that this is also the basis behind most people’s voting behaviour).

Examples of how this is applied to marketing, including the 80-year old Irish couple who made a video about their gay son, which swung a lot of the vote in favour of gay marriage in Ireland. If people like me have a gay son, it makes sense for me to support gay marriage.

Chapter 10 : Trust and Tension Create Forward Motion

You are going to have to pattern match or pattern interrupt, generally interrupt. You’re going to have to interrupt, then create tension which brings people through the interrupt because of their trust.

For example, you may release a completely new product (pattern interrupt) then create tension in the fear of missing out or of being the last of your peers to get the cool new product, which brings people into your new pattern and buying your product.

Chapter 11 : Status, Dominance and Affiliation

Status and hierarchy are at the heart of all human decision making. We eat at expensive restaurants or buy expensive cars because of the status we feel it reflects or imbibes in us, regardless of the quality of the product.

Marketing grids which position according to actual and perceived status, and to status movement the individual seeks against the way they seek it (affiliation vs dominance).

We use different narratives for different people and markets. Those seeking to raise their status through domination with respond to different messages to those seeking to raise or shore up their status through affiliation.

Chapter 12 : A Better Business Plan

A better business plan model would contain these sections:

  • Truth
  • Assertions
  • Alternatives
  • People
  • Money

This better allows us to see how we position ourselves (assertions) in the market (truth) and what we will do if our assumptions don’t work out (alternatives).

Chapter 13 : Semiotics, Symbols and Vernacular

We communicate through symbology. When looking at marketing material we scan and see what the symbols remind us of, and judge the company on that.

We should aim to be original, but only within the confines that the symbols and language we use remind the customer of the way we want them to perceive us. For example, if every luxury car brand has a certain feel to their adverts, we want to root our approach in – or at least give a decent nod to – that feel if we are to be taken seriously.

Chapter 14 : Treat Different People Differently

We can create a bell curve of people’s openness to change. People to the extreme left are always looking for the next new thing. People on the extreme right still use a VCR.

We are wasting our time marketing to anyone on the right of the curve. They will only adopt once the product becomes already established in the market.

The neophiliacs on the extreme left will adopt a new product easily but quickly move on. Different marketing is needed to move from the early adopters to those who are open to new things but not actively searching for it.

We need to focus on our superusers, those who keep coming back and evangelise about our business.

Chapter 15 : Reaching the Right People

We have strategy and tactics. As long as we know our strategy (our mission), we can keep adjusting tactics as necessary to achieve it, whilst maintaining the integrity of our mission or goal.

Separate direct marketing and brand marketing. Direct marketing is measurable and its aim is to get sales, maybe changing the culture in the process. Brand marketing is not measurable and aims to change the culture, maybe getting some sales in the process.

Chapter 16 : Price Is a Story

Price is marketing. A cheap price says we don’t have the courage to compete, that we’re not unique and offer nothing special. Expensive says that we have the integrity and the belief in our product to charge higher prices than the competition. Whether someone chooses the cheap or expensive product will depend on their internal narrative.

Cheap is another word for scared

Chapter 17 : Permission and Remarkability in a Virtuous Cycle

Permission marketing is infinitely more useful than advertising. Someone who has signed up to your mailing list has given permission for you to send them information. Someone who sees your ad in their Facebook feed has not.

It is easy to smother people with ads without permission, but it is better to show up in the right places, be generous towards our market, offer value, and gain permission.

Chapter 18 : Trust Is as Scarce as Attention

People mistrust and ignore advertising more than ever. We need to build trust in our market, which we build the same way as permission.

Chapter 19 : The Funnel

I’ll assume you already know what a sales funnel is. Seth’s point is that the idea that we are going to tweak the different parts of our funnel until we are making £20 on each £15 advert and have a money making machine is fantasy and is never going to happen.

Instead, focus on the neophiliacs, but also have a bridge between the neophiliacs and everyone else, who just want to do what everyone else is doing.

Seth gives the example of HugDug, a business he marketed which totally failed. His reasons for failure and what he did wrong are more interesting than any of his discussions on how to do things right.

He then gives another example of Green Building Council Certification, which grew exponentially. To begin with, the most prestigious companies had it, so they would have something to set them apart from the rest. Once having the certification shows you to be a serious player, now everyone had to get it. That’s the bridge.

Chapter 20 : Organising and Leading a Tribe

The tribe doesn’t belong to you. Don’t try to manipulate it. The stories and narratives you use will help you appeal to the tribe.

If you don’t show up regularly and with generosity, the tribe will forget you and the links you have created will dissipate.

Chapter 21 : Case Studies

Chapter 22 : Marketing Works, and now it’s Your Turn

Don’t try to be perfect, don’t try to be good enough. Try to be better and offer help.

Chapter 23 : Marketing to the Most Important Person

The stories we tell ourselves and what we tell ourselves about why we’re doing what we’re doing, the change we want to make and for whom, are the fundamentals of making any change in the world through marketing.


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