I’ve been a Seth Godin fan since the days of purple cows, so I was excited to discover his most recent book, This is Marketing. In his latest work, Godin reminds us that “marketing involves very little in the way of shouting, hustling, or coercion.” Instead, he describes effective marketing as “understanding our customers’ worldview and desires so we can connect with them.” He also observes, “Empathy is the heart of marketing”—the empathy to see and fill a real need.
According to Godin, marketing starts with making the right thing for the right people. One of the most important questions marketers must ask themselves is, “Who’s it for?” Once we’ve determined who it’s for, we need to be secure enough to say to the broader market, “It’s not for you.” We need to accept that we aren’t making average stuff for average people, but rather something designed to solve a specific problem for a specific group of people (he often calls them a “tribe”) who make similar decisions based on their perceived status and needs.
In This is Marketing, Godin encourages marketers to focus on their “smallest viable market”—a tribe that benefits from and cares about what we are offering. Expecting others to make rational choices based on features, and even benefits, is a myth. We need to create a culture in which our tribe gains status and affiliation by being “people like us.”
In a November SpeakingDIRECT post, my colleague David Klempke quoted Harvard Business School professor Theodore Leavitt, who observed, “people don’t want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” In Godin’s view, this concept doesn’t go nearly far enough. While Leavitt is correct that no one wants a quarter-inch drill, a quarter-inch hole isn’t what they’re after, either. People want to drill a quarter-inch hole so they can mount a shelf that ultimately gives them an uncluttered room. People don’t want what we make; they want what it will do for them.
Once we’ve found (or created) the right tribe for our products, marketers need to become storytellers. We need to tell a story that matches the built-in narrative and dreams of our tribe. A story that allows us to make connections with and create experiences for the people we are trying to reach. We should identify how our product advances our tribe’s narrative and show how our product helps them solve a problem. As Godin reminds us, our goal should be for members of our tribe to say, “People like us do things like this.”
Godin notes that attention is a precious resource, and trust is often as scarce as attention. As the original advocate for permission-based marketing, he urges marketers to focus on “being missed when you’re gone.” Marketers should seek people who would miss us if we didn’t reach out—in other words, volunteers to join our tribe. We succeed when we deliver what This is Marketing calls “anticipated, personal, and relevant messages that people actually want to get.” That’s how we earn attention, trust, and ultimately action.
Once we’ve earned the trust of our tribe, we need to spread the word because ideas that spread, win. We need to ask ourselves: “How will our early adopters tell their friends? Can we create a network effect that will propel this forward?” What we say isn’t nearly as important as what others say about us.
If you’ve read This is Marketing, I’d love to hear if you agree with Godin’s marketing philosophy. In Godin’s words, “Each of us is a marketer, and each of us has the ability to make more change than we imagined. Our opportunity and our obligation is to do marketing that we’re proud of.”
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