Book Review – This is Marketing by Seth Godin


I do like Seth Godin’s work. Lots of value served up in short, punchy, serves. This is Marketing by Seth Godin delivers plenty of aces. I read it as a kind of manifesto of what marketing should be for marketers. A call to action to quality and commitment to consumers, rather than chasing the hustle or the new bright shiny. For me, this book is about stripping away the hyperbole and calling for focus.

One aspect of this is a kind of debunking of the potential of modern digital marketing strategies. Yes, it is easier to reach a targeted audience via Google or Facebook ads, but because there are so many doing it, how effective is it really? It is easy to implement, but hard to be noticed in the flood. Another is SEO, there are only 10 places on the first page of a google search return, the capability and resources are not available for everyone to be there.

So how does Godin suggest we cut through the noise and be more effective? By understanding the human desire or need and make sure your product meets it. Godin goes beyond the hole. Invoking one of my favourite quotes, Theodore Levitt’s: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”, Godin belies it is time to go beyond the hole. While the quote is essentially saying the same thing, that people want a problem solved rather than a product, using this analogy leads us to think further about the deep seated need for a product or service. What is the desire for the hole? To hang a shelf. What is the desire to hang a shelf? Task achievement. Why that task? To identify as a handy man and to meet a status need. Now we have got to the emotional need for the drill.

This is an appeal to marketers to understand their clients business more deeply, and their customers. It is an appeal to business to ensure their product and services excel in satisfying these core emotional needs with a little less hustle and a little more focus on values. This is the essence of the book summed up in the subtitle: ‘You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See’.

Godin moves to the logical next step. Now that you know who you are marketing to, their desires, and that your product and service is the best at meeting them, the role of the marketer is to market to them and them only. He recommends segmenting even further, between adopters and adapters. Adopters are those who are receptive to change, while adapters are resistant. This segmentation is important because if what you are marketing is new or innovative, then marketing to adapters is not likely to succeed, you should focus on adopters as the initial target audience. This Godin calls the minimum viable market.

The minimum viable audience for a business share values and a view of the world that makes them a community. It is the job of a marketer to bring them together around the business producing the product or service they are marketing. Godin wants us to achieve this via story telling. Once we know and understand our minimum viable market, the desires that drive them to purchase, the values and world views they posses, we k now the language and the narrative that would appeal to them, and what will not.

What does every good story contain? The creation and relief of tension. Godin talks a lot about status as a component of desire and values. Understanding the status element helps us understand how to use tension to appeal to them in your stories by raising a challenge to their status. Godin sets out a distinction between status affiliation and domination. People who seek affiliation want to belong and feel where they belong within a particular community. People who seek domination want to be consider the top dog in their community, that their community is better than others, or both. By position a call to action, via tension, to appeal to either of these personalities will go a long way toward a story that converts.

Although I felt throughout the book that Godin takes an occasional swipe at the hustle merchants such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Grant Cardone. He shares their belief in commitment. For the hustle merchants, the commitment is more toward the self in taking action, than to your customers, while for Godin it is more the other way around. By committing to your minimum viable audience and always being responsive and talking their language, you can begin to reach audiences outside of this community. The more your audience uses your product, the more valuable it will become, and the more they will talk about it or display their usage of it. The become advocates and a network effect begins to spread the good word of your business product or service beyond the minimum viable audience and into the mainstream. Sounds easy doesn’t it?

Thankfully Godin doesn’t claim that it is easy, but rather provides a path and some tools for us to find our way. This, along with the easy-to-consume style of the book, makes This is Marketing one of Godin’s best and most useful books. His call for marketing to be better, to be focussed on consumers rather than flooding channels is one that resonates for me, and I believe will be valuable for any business.

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