How To Create Change And Do Something That Matters: A Conversation With Seth Godin
If you want to spread your ideas, make an impact, or improve something, you are marketing, and you need to read this interview with author and marketing legend Seth Godin.
“If you do anything that matters, it means you’re trying to change something. The act of changing other people is called marketing. We don’t spam people. We tell a true story that resonates with people, and helps them change their mind,” explains Godin, author of newly released This Is Marketing.
Let’s dive in!
Darrah Brustein: ‘Who can I help?’ Why is this question such an important question?
Seth Godin: A lot of people get hung up thinking that as a marketer they’ll have to do evil stuff, or they get hung up because they believe or worry that it would be arrogant to show up and try to change other people. What I’ve found is if we can change that word from market to help, if we can adopt a posture of generosity, suddenly we get out of our own way. We don’t feel selfish, and we market with people instead of at them.
Brustein: You write, “Marketing seeks volunteers, not victims.” How do you enroll someone to your message?
Godin: The word ‘enrollment’ is the core here because marketing is a form of education, and mandatory education is scarce indeed. The best kind of education is voluntary education. If you can teach somebody…as when someone stops and asks you for directions, you don’t have to keep poking at them and yelling at them. You can just quietly tell them directions because they want to go where you’re telling them. That’s enrollment in the journey. So, if you sell a product or a service or try to make a change that people don’t want to enroll in, make something else, because if you can make something where people are enrolled in the journey you will come out ahead.
Brustein: What’s the difference between marketing and advertising?
Godin: Advertising involves showing up in front of someone who didn’t expect you, interrupting them, and getting them to buy something. Advertising used to be really, really important. Advertising is way less important than ever before. So, getting the word out is overrated. Instead, it begins with this: who trusts you and who is listening to you already. When you have permission and trust, you can whisper to people. You don’t have to sneak around, and some of those people will be so delighted that they will do what you’re asking them to do. They will eagerly knock down the doors, in this case, to pre-order the book. Thousands of people are going to pre-order the book. How long did that take me? That took me 17 years. So, for 17 years I’ve been showing up and writing, and giving, and blogging, and leading, and teaching, and then I say, “Oh, by the way, there’s a book.” So a few thousand people will go buy it. Then, the secret to the whole thing, either some of those people will tell their friends or they won’t. If people tell their friends, that is marketing.
Brustein: I’m so glad you’re bringing that up. One of the keys that you talk about in the book is creating something that will make someone want to share it with someone else. What’s the key to that?
Godin: The key is super simple. No one shares things because it’s good for you. They share it because it’s good for them. Every time. No one shared Facebook because they cared about Mark Zuckerberg. In the book, I talk about the fact that the first person with a fax machine was paralyzed because you can’t use a fax machine by yourself. You have to tell everyone you know to get a fax machine or it won’t work. Well, you will share the ideas in this book if it will make your life better. If you will enjoy working with people who get the ideas in this book, you will give them the ideas in this book because it will make your day better. It’s about how do we help the community we’re serving get better in the way they want to get better.
Brustein: One thing I see people do a lot, and you reference this in the book, is say that their product or service is for “anyone or everyone”. How does someone better identify her audience?
Godin: Why would you do that? You would do that not because you’re a megalomaniac, narcissistic, greedy person. You would do it because A, you honestly believe lots of people will benefit, or B, because it lets you off the hook. Because at every committee meeting where people say, “Well, this part’s a little aggressive, and this part’s a little weird, and this part …” you sand off all those edges to make it so that the people in the middle will be really happy with it. The thing is the people in the middle are ignoring you. The people in the middle don’t think they have a problem you can solve. It’s not for them. Eventually, maybe, maybe the people in the middle will get around to it, but it’s not for them. So, when I think about my blog people say, “Wow, a lot of people read your blog.” Well, 99.4% of the people on the face of the earth have never heard of me, nor have they read my blog. If that’s enough for you, because it’s enough for me, instead of worrying about everyone, why not worry about someone specific?
Brustein: What others say about you is often more important than what you say about yourself. What is your take on feedback and criticism?
Godin: I think we have to begin by shunning the non-believers. People who are going to spread ideas about you that are not positive aren’t your problem. We have to ignore those people because if you obsess about those people, you will do nothing. Then, among the people whom you do seek to serve, either you know them or you don’t. Either you’re intimate with them or you’re not. Either you can have the empathy to imagine what they like or you don’t. So, I used to help run a summer camp in Canada, and for a long time I understood what a 12-year-old was likely to talk about, and if I didn’t, I had no business doing that job. You don’t have to be whom you want to serve. Why don’t you just pick someone you can empathize with? You don’t have to be a cancer survivor to be an oncologist. It’s totally possible to serve the people you serve without being them, but you have to have enough humility and care to imagine being them.
Brustein: Very well said. What would you say happens when a marketer focuses on tactics over customer outcomes?
Godin: I’m not going to throw all tactics under the bus because tactics are an intermediate step on the way to achieving customer outcomes. If you focus on tactics at the expense of being a human, then you’re going to go down a blind alley. It’s said that if you do enough A/B testing, sooner or later, your website will become a porn site because every single thing you could test is going to push you in that direction. That’s why it’s so easy to look at YouTube and be aghast at the fact that if you follow the recommended videos, within six clicks, you’ll be at a hate site because the algorithm isn’t human. The algorithm is just saying, “How do I get more clicks?” But that’s not going to work for them. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t scale because sooner or later humans go somewhere else. So, in the short run, you can make any number go up. There’s always a shortcut to make it go up, but you will make it go up at the expense of why you were here in the first place. So we get back to this idea about manipulation, and instead we’ve got to be serious about if they knew what you knew, would they be happy you did it?
Brustein: How do you recommend marketers overcome the fear of being disliked or poorly rated by those outside of their target market who get a hold of their product or service?
Godin: As privileged humans, we’ve really abused the word ‘fear’, haven’t we? I’ve worked with families where people are afraid their babies are going to die. I’m okay with that fear. That’s real fear, but you’re afraid you’re going to get a one-star review on Yelp! I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t have to play this game, but if you want to play this game, please understand that the cost of a five-star review is a one-star review. You can go look up the 10 most loved books in the history of mankind on Amazon: To Kill A Mockingbird, Harry Potter … Harry Potter has more than a thousand one-star reviews. More than a thousand people said, “This is the worst book I ever read in my life.” Well, yeah, if you want to be a billionaire author, that’s the price.
Brustein: I haven’t looked at your reviews, but I’d imagine it’s the same metrics-
Godin: You ready? You ready, Darrah? Seven years, 2,200 days, I’ve not looked at my Amazon reviews in seven years! I’m thrilled to report to you that nothing bad has happened to me. The fact is, if you want to write a one-star review for one of my books, if that’s worth your time, please go ahead. Not my job to stop you, please. Here’s what I’ve discovered: I’ve never met an author who said, “My writing is so much better now because I read all my one-star reviews.” No one says that, and the fact is, I’m never going to write this book again, so I don’t even need to learn from you because I already wrote it and I can’t unwrite it. If you are a human in my sphere and we are talking face to face, and you can give me constructive, useful advice, bring it on. I’m open to that, but reading anonymous reviews in a digital format, it was ruining my life. Nah, not for me.
Brustein: Please share with us about the power of stories for our brands, and how they create possibility rather than scarcity.
Godin: A story does not start with ‘once upon a time’, nor does it end with ‘happily ever after’. Stories are more ephemeral than that. They’re more nuanced than that. They’re way more emotional than that. So, Harley Davidson, without saying it, is a story about changing from being a disrespected outsider to being a celebrated insider. They never use those words ever. They just act that way, and it’s not your elevator pitch (because no one ever bought anything on an elevator). Instead, this is your emotional grounding in the change you are seeking to make. If you can be clear about that, a lot of your decisions get better. Then what it lets you do is be honest with yourself about whether that thing you’re offering opens doors for people or closes them. If you’re not able to offer people hope or dreams, if you’re not able to help people through their fears, if you’re not able to give people something to yearn for, then all you’re doing is tactically yelling about low price. I don’t know how to help you with that.
Brustein: When should a marketer focus on farming their current customers versus hunting for new ones?
Godin: It’s hard for me to imagine when you should hunt for new customers. Consumers are better at hiding than they have ever been before. It costs more money than ever before to turn a stranger into a customer. On the other hand, if you can take advantage of the fact that trust is scarce, and help the people who trust you get more of what they want, they will tell their friends. It’s not an accident that almost none of us eats hunted food. We eat farmed food because it’s way more efficient. This idea that there are people out there hiding, that you’ve got to somehow track down and sell to, that’s old school. That’s not for me.
Brustein: What do you say to someone who’s hesitant to market what they have to offer?
Godin: I thought you cared. I thought you cared about the change you want to make in the world. If you don’t care about the change you want to make in the world, you should go do something else. But if you do care, then I hope you care enough about the people you seek to serve that you’ll develop the empathy to tell them a story that works for them. There’s nothing shameful in teaching people. There’s nothing shameful in leading people. There’s nothing shameful in making assertions that help people make their lives better. If you don’t believe that your work will do that, then please put down the keyboard and go do something else.
For a transcript of the entire conversation, click here.
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Originally published at www.forbes.com on December 2, 2018.