Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Seth Godin Says This is Marketing, But Don’t Expect The Cash Register To Ring

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Back in 1999, I promoted Permission Marketing to the news media, conducting a radio tour on behalf of the publisher.  The author, Seth Godin, is now an Internet marketing guru, best-selling author, and respected thought leader whose blog posts are read by millions.  The former VP at Yahoo! and founder of Squidoo is a member of the Marketing Hall of Fame.  So what does he have to offer in his newest book, This is Marketing:  You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See?

“Marketing is the act of making change happen,” is one of the many sayings offered up in his 288-page book. Though there were a few interesting thoughts passed along, one would have best been served to read only the flap copy.  It summed up his points perfectly:

“Learn how to identify the smallest viable audience.  Build trust and permission with your market.  Adopt the narratives your fans already use.  Find the guts they create and release tension.  And most of all, give people the tools and stories they can use to achieve their goals.

“It’s time to stop lying, spamming, and feeling guilty about your work.

“It’s time to stop confusing social media metrics with true connections.

‘It’s time to stop wasting money on stolen attention that won’t pay off in the long run.”


Don’t get me wrong, I agree with most of what he says.  It’s just that it’s all been said before –by him and others.  For marketers looking for a detailed proscription on how to correct their unproductive ways, they weren’t given much to go on.  Just stories, pronouncements, and observations.

He wants the act of marketing to be more noble, not only because such authenticity and community-serving scores ethical points, but because it could be a profitable strategy.  But he fails to acknowledge that marketing styles depend on the product, service, or company that’s involved.  One sells hot dogs at the arena differently than how a national coffee chain markets itself – and certainly different from how an indie author markets a book.  

He believes marketing is not about shouting, hustling, or coercion.  But sometimes it is.  Sometimes marketing is about hype, scams, and pressure – and not always about honest stories that solve problems.

There’s a difference between marketing a want vs. a need.  It’s hard to define marketing in a diverse way through multiple mediums. But he is right to make marketers question what the customers they seek to sell to believe and want.  The answer will dictate the strategy.

So, as he asks, “In a world of choice, where we have too little time, too little space, and too many options, how do we choose?” His answer is simple and obvious:  go to extremes, find an edge (niche), and stand for something, not everything (segment your customer).

He also says that innovative marketing invents new solutions that work with old emotions.  Marketers have pushed the buttons of potential customers for centuries, appealing to raw emotions like love, fear, anger – and to desires for wealth, power, success – and to exciting things like travel and adventure – and to their sense of morality, nostalgia, peace of mind, and friendship.

He emphasizes that marketers need to narrow down their niche – don’t try to serve everyone or in the same way – and to find your unique selling proposition and to double down on it.

His belief is there are five steps to marketing:

1.      Invent something worth making.  Have a story worth telling.

2.      Design and build it in a manner that only a few people will benefit or care about it – target someone, not everyone.

3.      Share a story that fulfills the internal narrative (one’s assumptions and sense of things) or dreams of a tiny group of people.

4.      Spread the word (ads, media, social media, speaking, etc.)

5.      Work to build the change that you seek to make.  Earn permission from potential customers to follow up with them.

He does point out that marketing should not assume that everyone is like them, knows what they know, or wants what they want.  Nor should they assume that those they seek to serve are well-informed, rational, independent, long-term choice-makers.

So how is today’s marketer – whether of a book or some other product or service – to break through when they compete with each other in a noisy, crowded landscape, where so much is commoditized or sold based on convenience and comfort?

I didn’t really find the answer in Godin’s book, though I admit he did give a comprehensive reminder of all the challenges and failings today’s marketer confronts – and he did express some truisms, though not new, that are worth remembering.

For the 21st century, marketers have wondered how to compete when suddenly there’s global competition to even sell a pencil and when the Internet reduces everything to lowest price above quality, with same-day shipping, and the accrual of customer loyalty points.  The answer is there are companies folding, merging, making less, or looking to expand and diversify what it does.  Which leads to the next problem:  everyone is trying to sell everything.  Specialty stores are in danger.

The answer to marketing anything these days?  Be prepared to do a lot, to vary what you do, to experiment, and to expect diminished returns on what worked yesterday.  So all that Godin tells you to do – and the opposite.  

Hedge your bets.


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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