In This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, Seth Godin builds on his other writing and tries to explain marketing today. When it comes to marketing, he is about as popular as it gets. His writing spans decades, and he’s worked with some of the other leading marketing authors, including Jay Levinson in an early version of Guerrilla Marketing. In Tribes, he calls out his strategy for creating a following. In This is Marketing, he widens the field to explain why he believes tribes are necessary and how they fit into marketing objectives.
The Myth of Marketing
There are many myths about marketing, but none more pervasive than it’s easy or there’s some simple, 5-step formula for being successful. (See Got Your Attention?, Email Marketing Demystified, Launch, Pitch Anything, Traction, Launch!, Killer Web Content, and Platform for some examples.) Repeatedly, we hear about “overnight” successes that weren’t so overnight. Chick-fil-A and Walmart are popular exemplars for people to pull out for “overnight” successes. The irony is that both organizations spent decades in relative obscurity, until, eventually, they developed enough of a following and scale to really ramp things up. Apparently, organizations aren’t alone, Godin explains, as both the ice cream sundae and the stop light weren’t overnight successes either.
We want to believe that marketing is easy and quick. We want to believe that anyone can do it. However, reality doesn’t bear that out. We need to delve into the psychographics of our potential audiences and find out what consumers want. More than the ¼” drill bit and even more than the ¼” holes, what is it that they really want? We could stop short and say that they want to mount a shelf, but continuing further, what kind of an emotion does the person want to obtain by hanging the shelf? A bit more peace about the order in their world? That’s a far stretch to sell them a drill bit. Will they even understand the emotion they’re trying to solve when they’re staring down the ten options for purchasing a ¼” drill bit? (If you want more, Clayton Christiansen in Competing Against Luck and The Innovator’s DNA says that buyers hire things to do a job for them.)
Time and Measurement
In today’s world, we have more capacity to measure the efficacy of our advertising and the ways we engage the market than we’ve ever had in history. I can tell you which ads people clicked and even how long they stayed on my website after clicking the ad. We can see where our website hits are coming from. We can tell what time of day people come to our site. Not only are we swimming in data, most of the time, we’ve got solid dashboards to help us make sense of the data.
The problem is that Godin encourages us to realize that marketing is about forming a relationship with our prospects – our tribe – and this takes time. We’ve got to keep showing up day-after day with generosity for years and years. When we’re doing direct marketing, we can see that the users clicked, but we can’t see if we’ve built into our relationship or if we’ve made a small withdrawal from our relational bank account.
So, on the one hand, Godin encourages us to carefully watch our metrics, and at the same time, he encourages us to be patient for results to come. Some – but not all — of this discrepancy can be resolved by understanding that Godin is encouraging a relationship and not advertising. While advertising is necessary, he feels like advertising is unearned media.
No More Rock Stars
Fundamentally, Godin explains, marketing has changed. It’s more personalized, fragmented, and diluted. We simply don’t have as many megastars as we used to have. Growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I can remember Madonna and Michael Jackson. I don’t expect that we’ll see stars of their magnitude any longer. Things are just too diffuse. (See America’s Generations for more on differences in generations.)
Instead of trying to reach everyone, we should be focusing on our target market and finding a few raving fans who will share their passion for your solution with others. You want a group – even if it’s small – that believes so strongly in your solution that they’re willing to tell everyone they know.
Most of the time, when I’m talking to an organization about their brand, they instantly move to a discussion of their logo, fonts, and colors. They talk about what it looks like, but that’s not the core of a brand. The core of a brand is the promise that the brand makes to consumers. In The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explained that every brand makes a promise, and the strength of the brand relies upon their ability to deliver to that promise.
Marketing and Pricing
Your approach to marketing and your pricing are not distinct things. They’re related. If your brand promise is luxury and your price is low, the consumer won’t be able to reconcile the difference. They’ll be stuck trying to decide your messaging or your price. In the end, they’ll accept your price as truth – whether it is or not. When you’re deciding the spot you want to occupy in the market, you must consider not only the key emotion that you’re selling but also whether your price supports that position.
Brands have the power to cause people to spend money for little or no additional value. They’re selling status. They’re selling exclusivity and elite. That status is something that many people are quite willing to pay for. Somewhere deep inside, they believe in scarcity, and that, when things get scarce, those with the higher status will get the remaining resources. The problem is that the things marketers sell for status have no relationship to how much or little someone will have when resources become scarce. But, then again, This is Marketing.