Seth Godin: What Marketers Are Getting Wrong


The marketing expert shares how companies can change their tactics to get customers’ attention more effectively.

Seth Godin, best-selling author and entrepreneur, is one of the most prominent names in marketing today. Godin has worked in the field for decades and his blog is one of the most trafficked on the Web. Last week, the marketing expert launched his second course onSkillshare, an online learning commmunity, called «Modern Marketing Workshop.» (The course is a follow-up to his popular course «The New Business Toolbox: Help Your Business Do It Right the First Time,» which launched in January). Inc. spoke with him about the ever-changing marketing space–and what most companies are doing wrong in it.

You have been a well-known figure in marketing for a long time now. How have the Internet and social media changed the marketing landscape?

Seth Godin: The Internet is the first medium invented in 100 years that wasn’t invented to make advertisers happy. The connection between running ads and making money is broken, probably forever. As soon as you take that out of the equation, everything we understand about marketing, manufacturing, distribution–it all goes away. The new era of modern marketing is about the connection economy, it’s about trust, it’s about awareness, it’s about the fact that attention is worth way more than it used to be. Attention doesn’t come in nice little bundles anymore.

So then how can companies get their names out there and garner customers’ attention in this new climate?

SG: Well, I think that is the wrong question. If you think that a marketer’s job is to get attention so that they can sell what a company has already made, then you have proven my point. If you look at every successful marketing story over the last 10 years–Airbnb, Lululemon, and work your way up or down or sideways–all of them are the same. They make something the market wants to talk about. Companies should let the market decide what they make, not the other way around. They need to figure out how to plate what the market is interested in, as opposed to saying, «We made this, how do we get people’s attention?»

How do companies figure out what it is the market wants to talk about and what customers are interested in?

SG: The first thing is that they need to embrace the weird. Instead of thinking, «What do the masses want?,» they need to think about what the people who care want. They are two different things. The masses aren’t listening because they have so many other choices. The people who care are going to choose to listen. And by appealing to the people who care, it is way more likely that a company will be talked about.

The other thing is that companies need to really embrace the network effect–understand that what actually spreads are ideas that are better when they spread. Think about the first person with a fax machine. What exactly did he or she do with it? A fax machine is worthless if no one else you know has a fax machine. So what that means is there is an incentive for people to talk about it. People are not marketing things that work better when everyone else has them. They are marketing selfishly. That is the mindset that I am trying to help people bring to this story–to be in the business not of getting customers, but of writing a novel, telling a story, connecting with people that want to be connected to. It takes an enormous amount of humility to do this and a lot of marketers don’t have that.

What would you say is the greatest mistake that marketers are making today?

SG: The big mistake is thinking that their job is to spend money to get attention. If they think that that is what their job is, they will never ever succeed in marketing.

How can companies get marketing right?

SG: Start by understanding that no one cares about them. People care about themselves. Anyone who tweets about a brand or favorites a brand is doing it because it is a symbol of who they are–it is a token, it is a badge. It’s about them, it’s not about the brand.

It costs something to give companies attention and people are not going to give their attention just because a company bought a full-page ad in the newspaper. Commitment is what is required to change minds. We change our minds because we have made a commitment because something moves us.

So companies need to try to connect with their customers on an emotional level?

SG: Well, the fact is that Airbnb is nothing but crashing on the floor of a house. But there is a bunch of people, if AirBnb went away, they would deeply miss it. Well, what is it that they would miss about Airbnb? People would be able to figure out a way to get on a couch without them but what people would miss about them, what people would miss about TripAdvisor and what they would miss about Lululemon and what they would miss about Apple is the same thing–those brands mean something to them on an emotional level. It’s not just stuff. People have enough stuff, but they don’t have enough meaning.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a company that just launched, what would it be?

SG: I think that the best time to get advice is before you launch. I would say that if you don’t have the time to do it right the first time, then you don’t have the time to do it over and the way to do it right is to provide something the market wants to talk about. If that’s not what you have made, make something else.


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