This is Marketing: Seth Godin Discusses His Latest Book
By Susan Johnston Taylor, Freelance Writer
Ever The Contrarian
If you’ve ever browsed the business section at a bookstore, watched a TED Talk, or listened to a podcast on leadership, then you’ve no doubt heard of Seth Godin. The entrepreneur, speaker, best-selling author, podcaster, and online educator is known for his candid, often contrarian points of view on effective marketing and leadership.
Godin leads several popular online courses, hosts a podcast called Akimbo, and was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame as well as the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame.
Penguin Random House releases Godin’s latest book, This is Marketing: You Can’t be Seen Until You Learn to See, today. In honor of his book release, we talked to the marketing powerhouse about learning to write, ignoring the naysayers, and more. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
The Beat: What questions do you find yourself asking people most often?
Seth Godin: I want to understand, are they in a hurry to level up? Then the second thing is, what change are they trying to make? We get hung up on the tactics of our work, as opposed to realizing that the point of our work is for someone to cause something to happen. If we can't be clear about that, it's hard to tell if we're doing good work and it's hard to tell where we're stuck.
Who is your work for and what are you trying to cause to happen?
Who’s it for? It's for people who care enough to put themselves into the work because they want to make a change. There's an enormous number of people who are satisfied with who they are, who want to just go home and watch the next episode of whatever. Or possibly, who feel like they are a cog in the system that they can't do anything about. I can't help those people, so I don't try. It's not for them.
What's it for? It’s to help people see that they had more leverage than they thought, and to help them find the insight and the courage to do that work that they've always wanted to do.
Tell us about your new book or other new projects.
The book is based on the marketing seminar that we run. My mission is to change the way adults get educated because I don't think talking at people is the best way to do it. The things we're building: the altMBA, which is now in its 25th session, as well as the marketing seminar we just launched last week the Bootstrapper’s Workshop.
These are communities of change, so that you are surrounded by people on the journey that you're on. You discover how much you have in common, and then peer pressure pushes you forward. We supply the narration and the coaching, but it's the student that digs in and goes to the next level.
You’re a prolific author with 19 books. How did you learn to write? And how has your style evolved over time?
I didn't learn how to write in school. My teacher said I was the bane of her existence and that I would never amount to anything. She wrote that in my yearbook.
I took one English course in college. But after that, I started writing copy for ads. I started writing an internal newsletter for the company where I worked. And then I became a book packager, so I started writing books.
I discovered that there's a form of writing that isn't about 'wow that's stylish,' but instead is ‘I'm learning something from reading this. This is clear, and it's moving this conversation forward.’
I write like I talk. But in order to get better at writing, I had to get better at talking. If you're going to be good at writing, you have to have the empathy to forgive the person who's different than you. Because if you're writing for yourself, you already know that stuff.
Where do you see the marketing world heading?
I think it's going in two different directions which is why it's so confusing for people. In one direction, is the narcissistic, selfish, short-term, spammy, hype-y, ‘I need to take something from you’ school of marketing, which comes from desperation or greed. Now that anyone can anonymously do it, lots of people are doing it. That's a race to the bottom because you can only rip people off for so long.
Then there's the other direction which is the ‘how do I make things better?’ kind of marketing. That says, ‘this isn't for everyone. This is for a few people, and if it's not for you, I forgive you. But if it is for you, I'm going over there, come with me if you want.’ If you look at the first year of Kickstarter, that's all that was going on there. If you look at what happens when artists build a following on Patreon, that's the same kind of thing. That's the marketing I've always been doing, and I just get frustrated when it gets confused with the other kind of marketing because they're completely unrelated.
What have you overcome to get where you are, or what have you overcome to publish this particular book?
When we think about overcoming things, my best ideas are the ones that are greeted with the most skepticism. People I trust, who care about me, encourage me not to do them, because they don't want to see me fail. I think a lot of people have this problem. They go to their spouse, or their friends, and say 'I'm thinking about doing this.' And everyone, meaning well, says 'no, don't do that.'
You have to overcome that because they are mirroring the voice in your head to say, 'better play it safe, better get a freelance gig, better do what you're told.'
Because I'm a hypocrite, I have to worry a lot about not taking my own advice. So I've famously and repetitively said I'm done with book publishing. Because the book industry is in trouble. I've said that traditional book publishing is slow and difficult, so I'm going to publish my own stuff. But here I am publishing with my old publisher. Why did I do that? Well, I had to overcome the feeling of being a hypocrite to say 'you know what, this is the most effective way I know to reach the people I want to reach.'
Is there anything else that you want readers to know about you?
My whole mantra is for too long we've been brainwashed into thinking it's not our turn, into thinking we don't have a permit, or a license, or authority to make things better. So if I can encourage people to leap, and to make things better, even for a few people, it'll be a project well worth doing.