What I have learnt about marketing from Seth Godin. So far…

Seth Godin

Seth Godin is my biggest marketing inspiration. Not only is he very knowledgable, provocative and polarizing. He is also a great author who is very good at being direct and “to the point” when describing his thoughts and ideas. And he has no shortage of either, just check his blog which is the most popular marketing blog in the world.

To date, Seth has written 15 books over the last 16 years. I have read several of them and always found them extremely interesting and full of great insights. They also provoke a lot of thoughts and ideas. So I decided to try to capture some of the learnings I gained from reading his books. And as I continue to read his books (currently enjoying his latest book “Poke the Box”) I will continue to update this post.

eMarketing: Reaping Profits on the Information Highway (1995)
Not yet read

Permission marketing: turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers (1999)
This is one of Seth’s earlier books and probably one of the most interesting ones. It establishes the term “permission marketing” which is the contrast to the traditional “interruption marketing” model that depends upon interrupting what the individual is reading, viewing or thinking about in order to get their attention.

In the ever increasing advertising overload, permission marketing works because it breaks through the clutter and is less expensive. It’s about seeking the consumer’s permission to provide marketing information by establishing a mutual dialogue. Consumers may give their permission because they want to learn more about your product or service, or you offer them a bonus, payment, entertainment or some other benefit for paying attention.

Before mass media, marketing was personal and based on word of mouth. Then came mass media which allowed to reach a large audience at once. It was initially very effective, but as the amount of advertising has increased so dramatically over the last 30 years, consumers are overloaded and it’s difficult to stand out from the clutter.

Permission marketing offers the consumer an opportunity to volunteer to be marketed to. It’s like a dating, building up your relationship over time. You move a stranger into becoming an acquaintance, then a friend, then a closer friend, and if the relationship continues to go well into a lifetime relationship.

This takes time but pays off in the long term. There are five steps to building your customer relationships:

  1. Give a reason to get involved through volunteering.
  2. Once you have the attention, tell them more and more about your product or service in a way that keeps them interested and involved.
  3. Continue to reinforce the incentive to keep the permission to say more.
  4. Gain increased permission to continue the relationship. Deepen it with more incentives.
  5. Finally, use the permission you have gained to get the consumer to say “I’ll buy”.

The permission can be cancelled at any time, such as when your customer becomes angry that you have violated their trust. So if you build trust, you must maintain it, just like in any other relationship.

Although this book is 12 years old (written in 1999, long before social media tools like Facebook and Twitter), it feels very relevant. It’s also a bit strange that only now are we finally embracing this much more effective, relevant and interesting marketing model. But although Seth proclaims the traditional advertising model dead already in 1999, it still plays a very big role for most large companies with bid advertising budgets. Probably too big.

Unleashing the Ideavirus (2001)
Not yet read

The Big Red Fez: How To Make Any Web Site Better (2002)
Not yet read

Survival is not enough: zooming, evolution, and the future of your company (2002)
Not yet read

Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable (2003)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

Free Prize Inside!: The Next Big Marketing Idea (2004)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World (2005)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

The Big Moo: Stop Trying to Be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable (2005)
Not yet read

Small Is the New Big: and 193 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas (2006)
Not yet read

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) (2007)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing out of Sync? (2008)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us (2008)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable (2010)
Read it. Summary coming soon.

Poke the Box (2011)
“Poke the box” is a manifesto about starting. The not completely self-explanatory title comes from an analogy of a “buzzer box” for children, that when poked things happen. Kids by nature would poke the box to see what happens, try it, test, experiment. But as adults, we’ve developed a resistance to taking risk, testing things, starting projects and taking initiative. This is what Seth refers to as the “lizard brain” in his previous book “Linchpin” and Jim Lawless calls “the Tiger” in the book “see my previous blog post).

This book tries to encourage us to start things. It asks “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”. A paragraph that goes a good job of summarising the book is:
Imagine that the world had no middlemen, no publishers, no bosses, no HR folks, no one telling you what you couldn’t do. If you lived in that world, what would you do? Go. Do that!

One of the main reasons people are not starting is fear. Fear of standing out, fear of failing. People tend to think it’s safer to do nothing, to follow instructions and to simply do what your boss tells you. Actually, the people who win and make a difference are the ones who take initiative, start new things and even fail.

Actually, Seth argues that “the person who fails the most usually wins”. This sounds a bit strange and counterintuitive. But if you fail once, and big, you don’t fail the most. The game is over and you don’t get another chance. And if you never fail, you are either very lucky or you’ve never tried. But if you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing the next time, then you’re on the road to a series of failures. Fail, succeed, fail, fail, fail, succeed,… Winning comes from learning from each of the failures and to keep trying.

Finally, excellence isn’t about working extra hard to do what you’re told. It’s about taking the initiative to do work you decide is worth doing.

This short book is a quick read and a good “kick in the butt” and call to action for those who have become a bit complacent. And probably most of us have.