Don’t Do what Seth Godin Says about Marketing…Do What He Does
Seth Godin gets a lot of things right. Tribes? Check. The Dip? Check. Marketing? Well, it depends. If your goal is to attract fickle customers who are always looking for the next big thing, then follow the advice in his latest “This is Marketing.” If you’re hoping to attract customers who will keep coming back year after year, decade after decade, you might want to read on and learn what he actually does to market himself and his ideas.
In Godin’s latest volume he takes on a topic he actually knows a LOT about: Marketing. Few people have researched and written as much as he has about how to build sticky products, take them to market, and drive sales. Yet, Godin has built a loyal following doing exactly the opposite of what he espouses in “This is Marketing.”
In the book, he discusses various useful topics: how to identify your smallest viable audience; how to position your offering; how to build trust and permission with your target market; and how to build a better business by attracting better customers.
Where he loses ground is in writing about using status, affiliation, tension, and scarcity to attract and convert customers. The problem here isn’t that these tactics don’t work. They do! Just look at the line around the block for new “limited edition” sneakers, the number of people drinking bottled water, or Tesla sales over the last few years (all examples Godin mentioned at a recent talk at the Assemblage Nomad in New York City).
The problem is that status and affiliation seeking customers who are triggered to buy by fear of missing out are not buying your product due to any longterm allegiance to your values or appreciation of the quality of your product. They are buying it simply because other people are, and they don’t want to be left behind. And when the next “in” product comes down the pike, the herd will move on, leaving you among the ranks of Fidget Spinners.
Companies that build enduring fan bases and enjoy perennial success (e.g. Patagonia, Apple, Seth Godin himself) have clear and compelling values that attract higher quality customers. Godin’s books are perennial best sellers not because he has some compelling cool factor or because he runs limited-time-offer flash sales. His books sell because Godin lives and breathes a clear set of values that come through in his work, including: Service, Quality, and Integrity, among others.
When asked why he teaches status and scarcity marketing techniques, his blithe answer was, “Because they work.” Yes, they do, Seth. But they work to attract whom and for how long? I’m personally more interested in attracting and earning lifelong loyalty from my clients. So, instead of playing on their ancient mammalian survival instincts to seek tribal status and hoard scarce resources, I will appeal to their aspirational, higher selves, the part that is motivated by love, connection, and crystal clear values.
In this case, Mr. Godin, I will do as you do, and not as you say.
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Edward Sullivan is the Managing Partner of Velocity Group — a boutique coaching and training organization for start-up founders and Fortune 500 executives. With offices in San Francisco and New York, Velocity helps leaders and their teams optimize their performance and overcome obstacles to growth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.