Market Stories and Ideas, not Products — a Review of All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin

When I learned that I had to review a marketing book for my Social Media Marketing class at George Brown College, I was drawn to two separate books on the recommended list: Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator” by Ryan Holiday, and “All Marketers are Liars” by Seth Godin. Unsure of which to cover for my book report, I ordered both from Amazon.

After the books arrived, a quick browse-through revealed a striking juxtaposition in marketing philosophies: whereas Ryan Holiday’s book was filled with examples of how marketers and media in general deceive and manipulate public opinion and consumerism trends, Seth Godin’s book talked about authenticity as a long-term strategic approach. His viewpoint appealed more to me than the gimmicks illustrated in Trust Me, I’m Lying, so I chose to focus on exploring the intriguing ideas outlined in All Marketers Are Liars.

Authenticity vs. Manipulation — Competing in a Lying World

Both books agree that marketing is often a smoke-and-mirrors approach that can be unethical, fraudulent and dishonest. However, instead of boasting an “end justifies the means” viewpoint, All Marketers Are Liars argues in favour of building a “Great Story” — “Great Stories make a promise,” “Great stories are trusted,”factual,” “authentic,” and “Great stories are subtle.”

Consumer trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Lying for short-term benefit is much like a boomerang that comes back to hit your business. Also in direct contrast to Holiday’s approach, Godin insists that with storytelling comes a great responsibility since marketers can affect society in both positive and negative ways. Marketers who have authenticity will thrive in the long run.

“Until marketers start to take responsibility for the stories we tell and the promises we make, consumers will get increasingly more skeptical and suspicious — and all marketers will lose.”

“Consumers don’t buy your product, they buy your story.”

All marketers tell stories — and if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass, or that $125 Puma running shoes are better for our feet than a $25 brand. And believing it — since value is in the eye of the beholder — makes it true.

To Godin, great stories should match the voice of the consumer’s worldview. But a marketer shouldn’t focus on the product or water down her story to appeal to everyone, because it may end up appealing to no one. At its core, “marketing is about spreading ideas, and spreading ideas is the single most important output of our civilization.”

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from this book is the assertion that the best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and serve to reinforce how right they were in the first place.

First Impressions are Everything

Godin argues that both marketers and consumers are co-conspirators in this storytelling process. Marketers tell the stories and consumers buy the stories, lying to themselves to justify their purchases. In other words, customers want to believe that you are what you say you are. Whatever is being sold, is being purchased because it creates an emotional want — not just because it fills a rational need.

Appeal to Emotion

Appealing to our senses is far more important than appealing to logic, because people tend to make impulsive decisions that are driven by their emotions rather than logical argument.

Consumers also tend to make snap decisions based on little or no data, and often stick to those decisions even in light of contrary evidence. This quick, emotionally-driven process underlines the importance of first impressions. And an effective, authentic story can help marketers make a better and more lasting first impression.

People want to be right — it’s part of our human nature. And the job of a marketer is to understand that you don’t need to waste your time trying to educate people about what their worldview should be. Instead, it’s more effective to just slip into their preconceptions in an authentic way.

In conclusion, what sets this book apart from other marketing guides that promise to deliver quick tactics for short-term, headline-generating success rests in the fact that Godin does not preach in favour of any specific marketing technique or buzz-making scheme. Instead, he offers something more enduring: a strategy for long-term viability that combines authenticity with consumer emotion to create lasting value.

For a visual interpretation of All Marketers are Liars, please visit my digital book report’s Pinterest board.