Seth Godin on Marketing: Here's What Really Moves the Narrative About Your Company

Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner may spend a lot of time working for his goal of helping us all invest better, but that's just part of his ambition. Really, he wants to help us all live better, and financial security is just one piece of that. Another piece: introducing us to fascinating new ideas and the authors who share them. So this month, the Rule Breaker Investing podcast's theme is "Authors in August," and to lead off, he's got author, entrepreneur, blogger, and marketing guru Seth Godin, whose popular nonfiction books include The Dip , Purple Cow , and Free Prize Inside .

In this segment, Gardner asks Godin to shed a bit of light on some of his theories on the horizontal communication of ideas and peer pressure, why the most powerful ideas don't start off aimed at the average market, and why you sometimes shouldn't try to serve your unhappy customers. They also talk about how Godin's views of marketing have changed over the years, and consider the evolution of tribalism on the internet -- something he saw growing in his 2008 book Tribes .

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on Aug. 1, 2018.

DavidGardner: Let's move into marketing now. Can't not go there. Get Seth Godin on the podcast, have to talk marketing. Seth, I'm going to spot you up with a few what I'll call Godinisms, and I'd love you to riff a little. I assume you stand by most of these, but I always love hearing how you think about it, maybe updated for 2018, in some cases.

Let's kick it off with, "Conversations among the members of your marketplace happen whether you like it or not. Good marketing encourages the right sort of conversations."

Seth Godin: There's horizontal and vertical movement of ideas. Vertical movement is the kind we think actually happens, where a politician or a corporation or a TV host forces us to take action. That almost never actually occurs. Horizontal is, "Oh, you're not a cannibal, she's not a cannibal, I'll stop being a cannibal." Horizontal is, people like us do things like this. We're constantly victims of and creators of peer pressure. That's how we built our culture. It's all it is.

Given that all of the people you seek to serve are going to talk about something, the question is, are you building something they're going to choose to talk about? You can't force them to. I think the same thing is true when you think about, will some stock get more attention than another one? Well, it tends to happen because a piece of information gets spread from person to person, which causes action to occur. What that means is, we can't force people to do something, but we can set the stage that they choose to do it.

Gardner: Such a great insight. The next one -- "A product for everyone rarely reaches much of anyone."

Godin: Average stuff for average people. It worked for Heinz Ketchup, but that was 80 years ago. If you look at almost every single success of the last decade, it started for the weird. It didn't start in the middle. Airbnb and Facebook and little tiny companies that have a line out the door in your little town, all of them are on the edges. They don't optimize for the middle, they optimize for the edge, and then the edge tells the rest. If you optimize for mediocre, you're going to end up with mediocre, and that's not going to help you very much.

Gardner: Any time I hear Seth use the word "edge," I think back to Free Prize Inside! , one of the books I've really appreciated from you, Seth. That's where I first heard you articulate that, whatever your product is, whatever your company's about, find your edge and then make sure you take your edge to the edge, which has always been pretty good advice for us here at The Motley Fool.

Godin: I mean, I'm taking full credit for you, and you're taking full credit for the stock market, everyone's happy.

Gardner: [laughs] Another one -- "One disappointed customer is worth ten delighted ones."

Godin: This one has nuance to it, so let me try to break it apart. Today, it's easier than ever for someone who's pissed off at you to talk about it. If they get sufficiently upset, they'll talk about it more and more, because it becomes pleasurable for them to take you down. Whereas, in our economy, where FedEx isn't fast enough, an economy where perfect isn't good enough, satisfied customers mostly just sit there and do nothing. They're not busy bragging about you. They might be satisfied, but they're not super delighted.

What we have to figure out how to do is get rid of customers who we can't keep our promise to. Say to those people, "It's not for you." Don't keep making bigger and bigger promises because we're trying to please everyone. Then, what we have to do with the people who we can please, is stop trying to please them and start working to delight them, to overwhelm them with delight, so they can't even go to bed tonight without telling eight people about the extra effort we put into them. That's worth six billboards in Times Square.

Gardner: You just put me in mind of a blog you wrote last week. This one was forwarded to me by my friend, Lauren Horst, because Lauren loved it. I'm going to read it, because Seth's blogs are brief. I hope this is OK. A dramatic reading of Two ways to solve a problem and provide a service . Here's how it goes. This was written on July 23rd, it already has over 3,500 likes just on Seth's site, to say nothing of social media. These things get passed around a lot. I love this one. Here's how it goes.

With drama. Make sure the customer knows just how hard you're working, what extent you're going to in order to serve. Make a big deal out of the special order, the additional cost, the sweat and the tears.

Without drama. Make it look effortless. Either can work. Depends on the customer and the situation. But it's a choice. We can make it with intention.

In a lot of ways, it feels like what you just said to us, Seth. I was just connecting that in. This idea that, those customers that we do find, if we focused our product or service, and we've excluded others and said, "It's not for you," we really need to hold on to them and make them feel special.

Godin: We do. People feel special for different reasons. It's the narrative they tell themselves. If you think about, James Brown in concert at the Apollo Theater, his aides have to come out and catch him because he's working so hard. Compare that to Brad Mehldau playing the piano. It's just effortless. Well, they both made music. The question is, what kind did you want to hear? And how did you want it delivered?

If we're going to distinguish between a 4-star restaurant where it just seems magic, vs. the pizza place where the guy looks like he's going to drop dead of a heart attack, he's working so hard for you. Different people want different things. We just should be really clear that we're putting on a show, all the time, we're putting on a show. The question is, is that the show they came to see?

Gardner: Seth, looking back now over at your career -- I expect it will continue indefinitely, so I'm looking forward to future Godin for the next 30 years -- but for now, just looking back over the last 30 years, what's been the biggest shift in how you think about marketing?

Godin: I came up in the old days, and I thought marketing was something we did to people. Now, it's really clear to me we do it for people.

Gardner: Another friend of mine here at The Motley Fool, Troy Springer, dropped a note in. He said, "Building tribes on the internet sounded like a great idea when Seth first wrote his book Tribes in 2008. Recently, though, all that tribe-building may have backfired a little with the internet and companies like Facebook being called out for leaving social and entering the news business, sometimes the fake news business. Seth, what are your thoughts about the building of tribes on the internet today? Is social media a net positive or a net negative for society?"

Godin: I'm easily calling it a net negative. In my book, I was really clear that tribes aren't always a good thing. I was really clear that it's probably not your tribe. The tribe already exists. The question is, will you choose to lead them? The thing is, it doesn't matter if you're a public company or not. If you show up to make change happen, which is what marketers do, you're responsible for the change. So, the question is, you have all these people who want to connect, you have all these people who want to have various kinds of interactions and sometimes drama -- what will you, as the referee, as the organizer, as the media company, do? And, what will you be responsible for? So, when I look at this, I say, did you make things better? Did you show up in a way that people are glad to have that interaction?

My biggest problem with social media -- when we say it, we mean corporatized, weaponized social media -- is, they made it addictive because the humans involved are not the customer. If you are using Facebook or Twitter , you are not the customer. You are the product. You need to be really aware that it is you and your activity that's being sold. They're not there for you. And, winning at social media is not the same at winning at life. We've unfortunately lost many years and many people to that misunderstanding.

David Gardner owns shares of FB and FDX. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends FB and TWTR . The Motley Fool recommends FDX. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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