Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seth Godin's Got it Right: All Marketers ARE Liars

I'm currently reading Seth Godin's most recent book on marketing, All Marketers are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World. Many of you reading this post may know of Godin's work from his previous books, Free Prize Inside!, Permission Marketing, and Purple Cow. Savvy marketers read Godin because we know he is often ahead of the curve regarding imminent developments in our field.

This time, though not ahead of the curve, Godin in his inimitable style captures a concept I've been advocating for years (although unlike Godin I did not write a book about it, and so cannot claim credit!): Stories sell our products and/or services. Stories get our target audience(s) emotionally invested in our products and/or service. Stories motivate and inspire people to buy, donate, support... To do whatever our call to action demands.

But not just any old stories will do. No, Godin says, and I agree, that "in an economy where most people have an infinite number of choices (and no time to make them), every organization is a marketer and all marketing is about telling stories." Throughout the book, Godin uses examples of how stories build or destroy brands.

Whenever I read professional development tomes, I note sections that I believe to be particularly important. I use sticky notes to mark the sections containing these "ah ha" revelations; when I've finished the book I copy the sections into a personal professional development notebook.

I started this practice soon after I left the U.S. Army in 1993, and have since amassed a collection of three completely full looseleaf notebooks. Looking back at some of the stuff from the mid-90s is like taking a walk through a long-forgotten junkyard of management and marketing ideas that were once revolutionary. Remember TQM? I rest my case.

I'd need a separate notebook solely devoted to the revelations I've picked up from Seth Godin--many of which came from reading this book, All Marketers Are Liars. I've never met the guy and he's not paying me for any endorsement. But if you want to get a better understanding of what it will take to be a successful marketing professional in the coming years, here are some excerpts from the book that demand your attention:

1) Page 25: "Positioning by Jack Trout and Al Ries is one of the most important marketing books ever. And it's a great start. But it's only a start. Positioning, as practiced by most people, is one dimensional. If they are cheap, we're expensive. They are fast, we are slow, and so on...

" ... Most learning about products and services and politicians goes on outside of existing paid marketing channels... Positioning in the world of the story is a longer, subtler, more involved process. It's three dimensional and it goes on forever."

2) Page 55: "... I think the best marketing goes on when you talk to a group that shares a worldview and also talks about it--a community." (Which reiterates the absolute importance of viral marketing. With so many ads and so many marketing messages bombarding us every day, to whom do we turn for trusted information? Our friends, our family, people who tell us believable stories.)

3) Page 80: "Now we know marketing=storytelling, and everything an organization does supports the story. So everyone is in the marketing department and a company either tells a story that people care about, or their story disappears."

"People make decisions big and small based on just one thing: The lie we tell ourselves about what we're about to do."

4) Page 84: "Stories let us lie to ourselves. And those lies satisfy our desires. It's the story, not the good or the service you actually sell, that pleases the customer."

5) Page 111: "We'd like to believe that efficient, useful, cost-effective products and services are the way to succeed. That hard work is its own reward. Most marketers carry around a worldview that describes themselves as innovators, not storytellers."

If you read Godin enough, you know never to stop at the end of his book. Oftentimes the best part is in the appendices, and true to form, Godin hits a few home runs in the additions to All Marketers Are Liars. Here are a few more excerpts:

1) Page 167: "For fifty years, advertising (and the prepackaged, one-way stories that make good advertising) drove our economy. Then media exploded. We went from three channels to five hundred, from no web pages to a billion. At the same time, the number of choices mushroomed. There are more than 100 brands of nationally advertised water... Starbucks offers 19 million different ways to order a beverage.
"In the face of all this choice and clutter, consumers realized that they have quite a bit of power. So advertising stopped working."

The bottom line: Tell a story. Make it authentic and believable. Tell it well. Tell it often. Tell it through a variety of communications mechanisms. Get feedback on your story (is it really believable?!).

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