This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

This is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn To See

by Seth Godin

Marketing is all around us. And even though we see plenty of ads every day, we don’t truly understand what types of marketing work, and which don’t. The most important element of marketing is change. Therefore, when you want to market a product, the first and most important question you should ask yourself is what change are you trying to make.

If you want to think about marketing properly and understand how the best marketing works, this book is for you.

Summary Notes

Marketing with Generosity: Understanding the Market and Creating Something That Fits

Every three hundred thousand years or so, the north pole and the south pole switch places. In the world of culture change, it just happened. Instead of selfish mass, effective marketing now relies on empathy and service. assembles thousands of marketers to challenge each other to see what truly works. The internet is the first mass medium that wasn’t invented to make marketers happy. The magic of ads is a trap that keeps us from building a useful story. To be a successful marketer, you need to become driven by the market and work with it. Shameless marketers have brought shame to the rest of us, but there is a groundswell of people doing marketing because they know they can make things better. Marketing doesn't have to be selfish. It involves creating honest stories that resonate and spread, and offering solutions to help people solve their problems and move forward. It's time to stop hustling and interrupting, and to start insisting on a long, viable path instead.

Actions to take

Marketing is the act of making change happen

Marketing is more than just selling products; it's about making change happen. It's about changing people for the better, creating work one can be proud of, and being a driver of the market, not simply being market-driven. Since the best ideas often take time to catch on, it's the job of a marketer to help these ideas reach the people they're meant to serve.

Marketing is the act of making change happen by creating and then relieving tension, establishing cultural norms, and seeing status roles and helping to change them (or maintain them). It's about unlocking the viewer, gaining enrollment, and having the story make an impact. It has to resonate with the listener, tell them something they've been waiting to hear, something they're open to believing, and invite them on a journey where a change might happen.

Actions to take

Not Mass, Not Spam, Not Shameful...

“Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become. It involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread.”

We used to focus on mass media. And the world with TV and top 40 hits defined us. Marketers like to repeat these old-fashioned tricks, but they just don’t work anymore. Marketing has changed.

Nowadays, marketers want results fast, they like using tricks, and they invest a lot into advertisements. But marketing is not a battle; it’s not a war. Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem—their problem.

Marketing doesn’t have to be selfish. The best marketing never is.

Actions to take

Marketing Changes People Through Stories, Connections, and Experience

“Marketing is our quest to make change on behalf of those we serve, and we do it by understanding the irrational forces that drive each of us.”

People don’t buy an expensive car just to drive to work. They don’t buy a $3,000 sound system for their car and have a $30 radio in their bedroom just to listen to music.

People buy for the feeling they get after buying or having things. They buy the feeling of social status, of being organized, of being respected, or another desired feeling. The essence of marketing is to deliver these feelings.

As a marketer, you do something worthwhile when you bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status, or one of the other most desired emotions.

Marketers do this by telling stories that resonate and hold up over time. Stories that are true because they made them true through their actions, their products, and their services.

Actions to take

The Smallest Viable Market

“As soon as you ask yourself about the change you seek to make, it becomes quite clear that you have no chance of changing everyone.”

The first and most important question you should ask yourself is what change you are trying to make. The change might be trivial or profound, it doesn't really matter. What matters is that whatever you do, you aim to change something, or rather someone.

When you make a product or a service, it’s very rarely meant for everyone. No product would satisfy every person in the world. Aiming to satisfy everyone will lead to failure. Who is everyone? Everyone is a lot of people. It’s too diverse, too enormous.

Instead, you need to change someone, or perhaps, a group of someones. What is it that groups them together? It can be a demographic or perhaps a psychographic. Ultimately, they share a belief.

The essential question remains: Who is it for?

Actions to take

In Search of “Better”

“A marketer is curious about other people. She wonders about what others are struggling with, what makes them tick. She’s fascinated by their dreams and their beliefs.”

The Beer Advocate website lists 250 beers that earned more than 3,400 ratings each. Each beer is someone’s favorite. Essentially, every beer in the world is someone’s favorite.

Positioning your beer as the best beer, as a beer for everyone, will lead to failure. Because the market is very crowded. Customers with too many choices struggle to decide. Customers prefer to choose products that better match their needs and values. Therefore, it’s better to position your product for a certain group of people.

To do this, pick two axes. One is arrayed horizontally (X) and one vertically (Y). For each axis, choose something that people care about. It can be convenient, price, performance, popular, and so on. Then position all your competitors based on those two factors. Is your product unique? Did you find a place for your product that’s not crowded yet?

Actions to take

Beyond Commodities

The FDA was formed because over one hundred years ago, a lot of products were harmful to people. They caused sickness or even blindness. Fifty years ago, products were still a crapshoot. But they are no longer like that.

The quality of products and services nowadays are great. We are used to having our packages delivered on time and cars that do not break spontaneously. Great quality is required, but it is no longer sufficient. If you cannot deliver great quality yet, strategies and principles from this book will not help you much.

Is it good to be fully authentic and show your vulnerability? Is it good for you to show your emotions as they are right now? This can be dangerous because your role is to serve others. When you market, you cannot show your true self. You cannot be fully authentic. You are professional and you must do so-called “emotional labor”.

Emotional labor is the work of doing what we don’t feel like doing. It’s showing up with a smile when we’re wincing inside. Leave authenticity to your friends and family.

Actions to take

The Canvas of Dreams and Desires

“The heart and soul of a thriving enterprise is the irrational pursuit of becoming irresistible.”

Nowadays, people seldom buy things because they need to. They don’t buy a white leather wallet because it is what they really need. Firstly, they don’t need a wallet, and secondly, they don’t specifically need a white wallet or one made of leather. People buy things because of what those things made them feel.

Therefore, successful marketers move people from one emotional state to another. Marketers take people on a journey, and they help people to become the person they’ve dreamed of being.

Your product is for people that are looking for a change. If someone is not looking for this change, they will not even try your product. Instead, they will be happy with what they already have. Therefore, find the people you seek to change and show up with your offer.

People Like Us Do Things Like This

Each of us has some definition of ourselves—a definition of who we are. We are part of society, and we know other people like us. And people like us either do things like this, or they don’t. People like us eat beef, or they don’t because it’s environmentally unfriendly. People like us have a full-time job, or they don’t. This is part of our culture.

Culture is never global. It’s always a culture. It’s always a group of people that create a culture. It’s never “all of us”. There is nothing that would make “all of us” agree. There is no movie or a book with a 10/10 rating. Because, there is always a culture, not the culture.

Therefore, you never create a product for everyone. It’s always about a group of people that have a certain culture. Each of us can change a culture, and as we said, marketing is about change. This is what marketers do—they change a culture. Not the culture, a culture.

Trust and Tension Create Forward Motion

“When you arrive on the scene with your story, with the solution you have in mind, do you also create tension? If you don’t, the status quo is likely to survive.”

Some people are in the state of being interrupted. For example, new dads or a couple that just moved into a new city would fall into this category. Some people are in such a state naturally. But this is not true for most of us. When we are in this state, it’s easy for us to try new things. We welcome things that we’ve never tried before.

However, as you probably imagine, this state is not very common. Therefore, you must create tension to get people to try your product or service.

For example, let’s consider Slack. Slack is a fast-growing online messenger system for teams. Companies use Slack to communicate with workers quickly. Other workers join Slack because without it they could be left behind. Colleges are talking about these types of services and ongoing projects. Workers feel that if they don’t join, they are missing out on something. This creates tension, and this tension causes them to join.

Actions to take

Status, Dominance, and Affiliation

There are a few things to keep in mind about status.

  • Status is always relative. I can have a higher status than you, but lower than her.
  • Status, in my narrative, can be completely different than status as seen by outsiders.
  • Status matters only if the person we engage with cares about status.
  • Not everyone is seeking a high status. Some people prefer to lower their status.

Affiliation and dominance are different ways to measure status.

Dominion is about seeking high status. It’s about gaining power and being better. It’s based on an “I’m better” mentality.

Affiliation is about belonging. It’s about creating a tribe and having a certain role in this tribe. It’s based on an “I’m connected” mentality.

If you want to market to someone who measures affiliation or dominion, you need to know what’s being measured and why. You need to find out which of these two questions people answer:

  • Who eats first? This is the dominion question.
  • Who sits closest to the emperor? This is the affiliation question.

Are you going to serve people that are seeking dominion or people that are seeking to belong to a community?

A Better Business Plan

Business plans are very often misused to obfuscate, bore, and show an ability to comply with expectations. The first thing a business plan should do is show what change you are planning to accomplish. To do this, it must show the truth—what the world looks like, what competitors you have, and so on. It must be the actual state.

Once you show it, you can show the assertion or what you are going to change on the market. This must include how you are going to do it. The goal of the business plan is not to show that the company will be successful, but to show the purpose—the mission. And this mission is the change.

Actions to take

Semiotics, Symbols, and Vernacular

Your logo, your symbols, and your design matter when you think about your audience. Your logo means a lot to the designer that created it, but that does not mean it means anything to other people.

The most important element of your design is to create it in a style that your target audience already likes. This means you should use similar elements to associate brands they already like with your brand. This means that creating a fancy logo or a fancy design in a very original style is risky. In fact, if you create your logo differently from anything that your audience has seen before, they will not have any feelings about it. It’s almost as if you do not have a logo at all.

Therefore, don’t spend too much money on designing a great logo. Create one that will fit in every place you want. It should be a logo that people will associate with something they like. Then, move on. Once you have a good logo, keep it as long as you keep your name.

Treat Different People Differently

Not everyone is the same. What’s more, not every customer will bring you the same amount of money. Among your customers, there are so-called superusers. People that are willing to spend much more on your services. People that will buy everything you make and are loyal to you. It’s important to treat them better because this 10% of your customers can bring more than 50% of your revenue.

Treating everyone as if they are special is like treating everyone mediocrely. You simply cannot treat everyone the same.

Reaching the Right People

“A noticed ad is noticed by some people, not everyone. And, if it’s noticed by the right people, it creates tension. The tension of not knowing and needing to know more. The tension of being left behind. The tension that things might get better (or worse).”

There are two ways of marketing: brand marketing and direct marketing. Direct marketing is when you address your ads to specific people, and then you measure whether they converted into paying customers. One example of this is online ads.

Brand marketing is different. It's an advertisement for your brand to make a change. You don’t advertise the brand to get a conversion. Instead, you are focused on making your way into the mind of your customers. This way, when they need your service or product, they will choose your brand. For example, TV ads, billboards, and even magazine ads are all examples of brand ads. 

When you’re buying direct marketing ads, measure everything. Compute how much it costs you to get attention, to get a click, and to get a customer. If you cannot measure it, it doesn’t count.

When you’re buying brand marketing ads, refuse to measure. Engage with the culture. Focus, be consistent, and be patient. If you cannot be consistent and patient, don’t invest in brand marketing ads.

Price Is a Story

“Lowering your price doesn’t make you more trusted. It does the opposite.”

When you buy a wine, the first thing you probably check is the price. In this example, the price determines the quality of the wine. So, you can see how the price can tell a lot about the product.

When you advertise a product as cheap, it’s another way of saying “scared”. Unless you have some innovative way to deliver cheaper products, you probably aren’t promising change. You’re promising the same old thing just cheaper.

What about a strategy to make products free? Free is not one dollar less than a dollar. Or one penny less than a penny. Free is different. You make free products to spread ideas. And then you make an expensive expression of those ideas that are worth paying for. For example, you make a free podcast that leads to an online seminar. A song on the radio is free, but the concert ticket costs $84.

You make things free to build awareness, earn permission, and gain trust. This gives you a platform to sell the things that are worth paying for.

Permission and Remarkability in a Virtuous Cycle

We live in a world where most of the marketing communication is sent to us without our permission. It’s spam.

Having permission from people to send them emails is very different. They are looking forward to receiving something from us. They miss emails from us when we stop sending them. It’s not enough that we have their email address or that they accepted our terms and conditions when they signed up on our website. Permission is personal, and it means our communication is anticipated.

To get and to keep permission, we need to be remarkable. We must do something worth talking about. Seth Godin calls this a purple cow. It’s up to your users to decide if it is remarkable. It’s not up to you. When users want to talk about something with their friends, it’s remarkable. This is what you should aim for, and nothing less than this.

Here is the most important thing: people are not going to talk about your product or service because it’s important to you. They will only do it when it’s important to them. This might be because it furthers their goals or maybe because it permits them to tell a story to themselves that they’re proud of. You must make your communication important to your audience.

Actions to take

The Funnel

“In order to satisfy the early adopters, you may just need to annoy the masses. The very thing your innovation did (break things) is the one thing that the mass market doesn’t want to happen.”

Visualize the funnel. On the top, you got many people’s attention. On the bottom, your loyal customers come out. Between the top and the bottom, many people leak out. You can limit those leaks by better targeting your product, by making the audience more clear, and so on. On pretty much every single step of the funnel, there is something you can do to improve.

The most popular method to get the attention of users is ads. Half of the money spent on online ads go to Google and Facebook. Half! The competition for ads is huge. Therefore, having a funnel that pays off the cost of the ads right away is actually rare. Many companies have an investment return much later when they sell again and again to the same customers. But this is not the case for all of them.

Therefore, making products that people talk about is very important. If your users do not bring in new users, you will most likely never cross the chasm. 

Crossing the chasm means to convert from a niche product used mostly by early adopters to a product known and used by the masses. It’s about making a product so good that people will talk about it. A product so good that even people that don’t like new products will use it because not using it will feel like being stupid.

It is possible that you will not find the bridge to cross the chasm. It is possible that your product is too niche, or does not have enough engagement, or does not build enough emotion.

Actions to take

Organizing and Leading a Tribe

It takes time to build a tribe. Many people will join your tribe. But when tension drops, they return to the status quo.

Your job is to connect the members of your tribe. They are lonely and disconnected. They fear being unseen. And you, as the agent of change, can make connections happen. There are many things you can do such as create cultural artifacts, use status roles to elevate a costume, etc. Challenge your tribe to go further and to adopt goals. It is your job to push them forward.

The tribe is waiting for you to commit.

Actions to take

Is Marketing Evil?

The better question would be, “Are marketers evil?” The answer is simple. Some of them are. Therefore, we, as marketers, must aim to provide satisfaction to our customers. We should aim to make things better.

If you market something that does not satisfy a real demand, drop it. Switch to marketing something you are proud of. Create value that will be missed if you disappear.

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