The one question marketers must answer first (Review of Seth Godin’s This is Marketing)

godinThis review first ran in the Jan. 19 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See

By Seth Godin

Portfolio / Penguin

$32

The question isn’t how much money you can make and how fast you can make it.

It’s not how big you can build your brand and how many real and fake followers you can find or buy online.

It’s not how to game the system by using the latest search engine optimization hacks.

Instead of all that, it’s only this -“who can you help?”.  Market nothing until you have a definitive answer.

Whether you’re looking for customers, clients, subscribers, students, audiences, donors, funders or voters, Seth Godin says this must be your first and foundational question.

Godin is the author of 18 bestsellers, a member of the Marketing Hall of Fame, tech company founder and former Yahoo VP.

“Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.  Sharing your path to better is called marketing and you can do it. We all can.”

Godin uses a lock and key analogy. You could make a key and then run around hoping to find a lock. Or you could start by finding the problem – a lock that needs opening – and make the key.

“It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than it is to find customers for your products and services.”

You don’t use people to solve your problems. You’re in business to solve their problems.  Successful marketers “have the empathy to know that those they seek to serve don’t want what the marketer wants, don’t believe what they believe and don’t care about what they care about. They probably never will.”

Godin says there are five steps to marketing a product, service or idea:

  1. Invent something work making, with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about.
  2. Design and build it so a few people will benefit greatly and care deeply. Identify your smallest viable market. You can’t change everyone but you can change someone. “What’s the minimum number of people you would need to influence to make it worth the effort?”.
  3. Tell a story that lines up with your customers’ hopes, dreams and desires. Say what people need to hear. This is how you earn attention, trust and action.
  4. Start spreading the word, ideally by the people you’re serving. “What you say isn’t nearly as important as what others say about you.” Have a product or service that’s worth talking about and searching for beyond a generic search.
  5. Show up regularly, consistently and generously year after year after year. Deliver on your promise.

You have a choice with your business, organization, non-profit or personal brand. You can be marketing-driven or market-driven.

Marketing-driven is a dead end, says Godin. “When you’re marketing-driven you’re focused on the latest Facebook data hacks, the design of your new logo and your Canadian pricing model.

“When you’re market-driven, you think a lot about the hopes and dreams of your customers and their friends. You listen to their frustrations and invest in changing the culture. Being market-driven lasts.”

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

Book review: All marketers tell stories by Seth Godin

This review was first published in the Dec. 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

All Marketers Tell Stories By Seth Godin

Portfolio ($30)

The launch of Hamilton’s Innovation Factory tops my shortlist of local good news stories from 2010.

The Innovation Factory will do more than help entrepreneurs bring new ideas to the marketplace. It will also give Hamilton another great story to tell to aspiring entrepreneurs here at home, coast to coast and around the world.

The National Bureau of Economic Research in the U.S. put out a working paper last year showing that young companies, and especially start-ups, create the most jobs. So if we want more paycheques and prosperity for all Hamiltonians, we need more entrepreneurs to set up shop in Steeltown. And the Innovation Factory gives us a pretty cool story to tell aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking for a helping hand.

If you want to launch and grow your business, choose Hamilton, the start-up capital of Canada.

A great story is at the heart of all successful marketing, says bestselling author and marketing guru Seth Godin. “Marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.”

When you tell us a great story, we’re far more likely to pay attention, believe what you’re telling us and retell your story with friends and family. “Either you’re going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant,” says Godin.

We’re hardwired for storytelling. Stories make it easier for us to live in a complicated world where we’re too overwhelmed with data to drill down into all of the details.

“We tell ourselves stories that can’t possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we’re not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.”

We don’t buy facts. We buy the story. “The facts are irrelevant. In the short run, it doesn’t matter one bit whether something is actually better or faster or more efficient. What matters is what the consumer believes. It’s the story, not the good or service you actually sell, that pleases the consumer.”

According to Godin, great stories succeed because they capture the imagination of large or important audiences. All great stories are true because they’re consistent and authentic.

“Storytelling works when the story actually makes the product or service better,” says Godin.

Great stories make a bold and audacious promise and inspire trust. Great stories are subtle, allowing us to draw our own conclusions. Great stories happen fast and engage us immediately. Great stories don’t appeal to logic and they’re rarely aimed at everyone.

“If you need to water down your story to appeal to everyone, it will appeal to no one,” warns Godin.

Great stories don’t contradict themselves and they agree with our personal worldview. Our worldview is built on our beliefs and biases and it’s the lens we use to look at every decision we’re asked to make.

The best stories don’t teach or tell us anything new, says Godin. The best stories agree with what we already believe and remind us how smart and right we are. None of us like to change our minds or admit that we’re wrong. “Don’t try to change someone’s worldview is the strategy smart marketers follow,” says Godin. “You don’t have enough time and you don’t have enough money. Instead, identify a population with a certain worldview, frame your story in terms of that worldview and you win.”

Godin says the best stories promise to fulfill the wishes of our worldview by offering a shortcut, a miracle, money, social success, safety, ego, fun, pleasure or belonging.

“The organizations that succeed realize that offering a remarkable product with a great story is more important and more profitable than doing what everyone else is doing just a bit better. Make up great stories. That is new motto. “If what you’re doing matters, really matters, then I hope you’ll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.”

We’ve got a great story to tell here in Hamilton when it comes to helping entrepreneurs succeed. Here’s hoping we spend 2011 telling that story far and wide and close to home.