Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. Now, if you want your work to make an impact in this world, my guest today is one of the most thoughtful and prolific teachers of our time. Seth Godin is an author, entrepreneur, speaker, maker of ruckuses, and most of all teacher. Over the past quarter century he’s taught and inspired millions of entrepreneurs, marketers, leaders, and fans from all walks of life via his blog, online courses and lectures. He runs themarketingseminar.com and created altMBA. He’s the author of 18 bestsellers that have been translated into more than 35 languages. His latest book, This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See, is available now.
Seth Godin, thank you so much for coming back on the show.
Marie Forleo, thanks for having me back. I thought I blew it last time. Here I am again. It’s great.
Are you kidding? You blowing it doesn’t even like… it doesn’t register.
It’s because you raise the bar so high. The work you put into it and the spirit is such a privilege to talk to you.
I adore you. Thank you. You guys, I know you just saw a cover. You saw it. This is Marketing, I’m gonna say this is genius, this is a book you have to get for yourself, your friends, your loved ones, anyone who cares about making change in the world through what they do. Seth, you have so many incredible books. Why this book, this topic, right now?
Books are different than they used to be. There’s so much work. It’s a year, as you know or more. Then you got to go and bring it to the world. You just make a blog post, reach more people. Why not just make a blog post? Or why not publish it yourself? My last book I published myself. It did pretty well. There’s something about a book that let’s the reader say to his or her peers, read this. The three of us, we’re all gonna read this and meet about it tomorrow. You can’t do that with a Ted Talk, you can’t do that with a blog post because the book itself contained no batteries required. Here, read this. I run this seminar online called The Marketing Seminar. I got to watch six thousand people go through it and see how they changed and see what worked and see what didn’t. I said, “Oh, I should write this down.” The book itself, once I made the course wasn’t that hard to make. Then I said I’m willing to go through the pain of bringing it to people. Because if groups of people that want to make change happen can share this conversation, they’re gonna disagree with a lot of what I said. Fine with me. At least you’re gonna talk about it. That’s why it’s worth the journey.
That’s really freeing for me even because as we were talking before the camera started rolling, I was telling Seth how I’m in the last leg of my book right now.
I love it. I’m gonna remember this. I’m like, highlighting this in my brain. People are gonna disagree with a portion and that’s fine, but to get them talking. You say in the book and I’m gonna do a lot of this in this conversation, because literally I have so many highlights and so many underlines. You say, marketing is the act of making change happen. Making is insufficient. You haven’t made an impact until you’ve changed someone.
Right. A lot of people don’t like marketers, more than don’t like accountants, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because accountants have a job and marketers have a job. What do marketers do? Here’s what we don’t do. We don’t spam people, interrupt people, trick people, force people to do things they don’t want to do. That’s a different task that calls itself marketing. That’s not what we do. Marketers make change happen. If you can make someone better, if you can open a door for someone, if you can shine a light, that’s the act of marketing. Because what you’ve done is brought an idea or a product or a service to someone who needs it, and offered them help. A lifeguard knows how to swim. Until you get the drowning person to hold onto that ring, you haven’t accomplished anything. That’s marketing. Persuasion.
What I wanted to do once and for all is say, that other thing that you don’t like, that other thing that some people call marketing, programmatic, and pop ups and pop unders and all that nonsense, no. That’s not what I’m talking about. This is for us. Work that matters for people who care.
You also write, “The answer to just about every question about work is who can you help?” You also have “Instead we begin with a group we hope to serve, a problem they seek to solve, and the change they seek to make.” Talk to us about starting with the human, the person first. Not necessarily what we want to make or our creations, but this approach.
I’m gonna come in sideways a little bit because one of the controversial ideas is that we need the smallest viable audience, not the biggest possible audience. A lot of people have trouble with that. They say, why should I do all this work if I don’t want to reach everyone? If you want to reach everyone, that means you’ve denied the people you’re serving their humanity. Because you’re saying you are the masses, you are average. If you can pick someone, if you can be specific, the smallest viable group of people and say I live or die with you. You are who I’m here to serve. If I can’t please you, I didn’t do a good enough job. That’s different. That puts you on the hook to see other people for where they want to go. If that’s not where you want to go, well then they’re the wrong people. If no one wants to go where you want to go, then you are not gonna achieve what you seek to achieve. To be honest here, what we have to begin by saying is, who would miss me if I was gone? Who will say to me thank you for bringing me this?
Some skeptical people say, that’s impossible. No one wants life insurance. My answer is, so then don’t make life insurance. Let someone else do that. You get to pick what you do. Do something worthwhile because it’s gonna take blood, sweat, and tears to go to the next level. If you’re not who it’s for, and what it’s for, and obsess about that because we don’t do marketing to people. We do it with them because they have a choice now. They didn’t used to have a choice. With so many things a click away, they have a choice. If they’re not gonna pick you, then you’re out of luck.
I love your simple three sentence marketing template. I feel like for our audience and for most people, especially if they’re uncomfortable with marketing or they’re still trying to get over that other thing, I feel like I talk about this a lot in B-School as well. Part of my job with my B-Schoolers is to help them unlearn a lot of the icky, aggressive associations that they have with what marketing even is. Giving people a simple template I think can be helpful for a lot of folks. Oh, this is how it is. Do you want me to read it or do you want to go from there?
I change it every time so you go first.
Okay. “My product is for people who believe blank. I will focus on people who want blank. I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get blank.” It’s so simple. But if people started there, it switches the entire perspective.
There’s all this empathy involved, which empathy it doesn’t have to be mushy and soft. Empathy can simply be a willingness to let people be who they want to be and not insist that they be who you want them to be. The template begins with “if you are the kind of person who believes blank,” if you’re the kind of person who believes in authority over affiliation, if you’re the kind of person who is an optimist not a pessimist. All these different things, different people believe. I might not believe what you believe, but I’m okay with what you believe. You want a certain kind of change. Then this thing I’m bringing you, I promise you will help you reach your dreams and goals. Let’s think about Harley Davidson. I don’t have a Harley. Do you have a Harley?
I do not.
It’s not for me. That’s because I don’t believe blank, where believe that having a 15 thousand dollar heavy motorcycle will make me feel more complete or part of that group. I don’t want that. If they go to people who do want that, then they say here’s our next one and that’s why they don’t make a competitor to the Vespa scooter. Because they could and it would work, but it wouldn’t address the dreams and desires and hopes and fears of the people they seek to serve. They don’t make scooters. They make big motorcycles.
When I think about the extraordinary success you’ve had leading the people that you lead, you don’t spend any time at all worrying about the person on Wall Street who’s not tuning in. It’s not for her.
Right? It’s not for her. That’s okay because there’s so many people. You and I have big followings, which is such a privilege. 98% of the people in the United States have never seen your show, never read my book. 98%, fine.
Nobody knows who the hell we are.
Yes, totally. Absolutely. I want to talk about positioning as a service. This was one of my favorite examples. I actually shared when I was reading the book over the weekend. Two of my friends I shared your example of the piano teacher with, because I think it’s so genius. I know that folks watching the show and I heard this. I was speaking at an event in San Francisco and a woman stood up and she started talking about it. She’s like, but there’s so much noise out there. How am I going to stand apart? I thought when I read your ingenious idea about the axis and specifically the piano teacher. Can you share that? Because I think people will see themselves in a whole new perspective.
Traditional marketers if you went to business school or whatever, talk about differentiation. They talk about how do I cut through the clutter and the noise? That’s selfish. That says I’ve worked hard. How do I get people to me? Let’s throw that out and say that person you seek to serve, they have a problem. Their problem is just too much noise. Their problem is they don’t know what to pick. The problem is they’ve got a kid they want to educate in music but they’re not sure how. Can I offer them a service to help them see what their choices are? Now it’s generous. In the case of the piano teacher, what I know is that no one drives more than 20 miles to go to a piano lesson. Let’s call it five miles. That’s the circle of people who can send someone to take a lesson with me.
Then I can create axes and I can have as many as I want but two is all that will fit in my brain. I get to pick what the edges are. Some of the edges could be cheap and expensive. Some of the edges could be kind or eastern European in their strictness. Some of them could be focusing on jazz, some of them could be focusing on classical. You can look at an axis this way and an axis this way. If you draw oh this one, this one, this one, this one, there’s someone who’s already over here, there’s someone who’s always over here, but there’s no one who offers this combination. On your behalf, I will live in this corner. If that’s what you’re looking for, great. If I talk to you and I realize it’s not what you’re looking for, I will eagerly send you to that other teacher because I am here to help you get what you want, not to persuade you that you are wrong.
That shift is so important because it gives us this feeling of sufficiency, which is not that I have to clear everything off the table so I can go public one day. It’s there’s enough as long as I stand for something. I can ignore the critics because the critics are critics because it’s not for them. Thanks for letting me know. There’s someone over there who’s for you. This is for someone else.
Yes. I loved it. I was sharing with my friend too with the piano teacher example. If someone gets excited and passionate about being really rigorous and says, you know what? If you want your child to have the best chance of winning in a competition, you want the practice to be like this. It’s about discipline. It’s about showing up. It’s about winning, whatever that means. I’m the teacher for you. On the other end of the spectrum, let’s say you’re a piano teacher and you’re like, it is about the holisticness of the experience and the creative expression and your child is gonna love playing. They’re gonna tap into their ability to express their emotions through music. Then you go to that teacher. I felt like that example was so wonderful because it allows all of us to also say, not only what are the problems that the market wants solved, but who and how can I best make those promises and exceed them?
Exactly. Which leads to this crazy thing of authenticity. Because I don’t believe in authenticity. I think authenticity is a trap. Here’s how I know it. If you need knee surgery and you go to the surgeon and on operating day she says, I had fight with my family and I don’t really feel like doing surgery. You’re like no. Keep your promise. Be consistent. Do this for me. The drama in your head, not my problem. I want you to be a professional. If you show up in a marketplace where every single piano teacher is rigorous and strict and wants to win prizes and you want to make a living as a piano teacher, positioning as a service is you don’t get to be the authentic one who’s just like everyone else. You have to be the consistent one who makes a promise that says I’m here to serve your kids. So what I do is blues and joy and fun and they want to come back next week. That’s what I offer. In your spare time if you want to go be the rigorous player of Beethoven, please go at it. If you’re a professional, make a promise and keep it.
Love it. A counterintuitive––actually we talked about this smallest viable market and you hit it. I want to read this because again I feel like I get this question a lot. We’re gonna re-underscore the importance of smallest viable market. You said the challenge for most people who seek to make an impact isn’t winning over the mass market. It’s the micro-market. They bend themselves into a pretzel trying to please the anonymous masses before they have 50 or a hundred people who would miss them if they’re gone. The line of if you can’t succeed in the small, who do you believe, or how do you believe you’ll succeed in the large? I don’t think we can say this enough quite frankly because when we do in an exercise in B-School about ideal customer avatar and I’m having people just imagine for a moment, just a single person. People freak out. They’re like, it’s so much resistance. But, but, but, but, but. I want to serve everyone, serve everyone. I feel like this is a slightly different angle. It’s like, look. Forget about tens of thousands or millions. What about the first ten?
Exactly. One of my… I don’t remember many of my blog posts because you know it happens.
There’s one I wrote called First Ten. What I say to people who say how am I gonna get the word out? I say do you know ten people? Are there ten people who trust you? Are there ten people who will try? Everyone says yes. I said, when you bring your work to them, do they say thank you and move on? Or do they insist on telling other people? Because if they insist on telling other people, you’re set. If they don’t, then you need to make better work or find the right ten people. Those are the only options.
I love it.
You can’t buy your way to the masses anymore. You used to be able to. It’s gone.
On that tip, I want to turn a little bit to the idea that all critics are right and all critics are wrong. This is so vital. Again, I hear this almost weekly any time I go to an event, people ask about it. It’s like, I’m so scared of having that Instagram comment or that blog comment or that email or that video of someone just trashing my work and saying it’s no good. You said the critic who doesn’t like your work is correct. The critic who says no one else will like your work is wrong. It’s either good or it’s not. That is not true.
Right. Anyone who has an opinion, it’s true. That’s their opinion. They’re not trying to win a logic prize. It’s just I don’t like that photo, I don’t like that baked good, I don’t like this. Right? Fine. Thanks for letting me know. That might not be my problem. It might be my problem. We’ll see in a second. The critic who says I’ve seen this movie, I’m writing in the New York Times, no one will like this movie. That critic is wrong because that critic can’t know what everyone else will like. All they know is what they like. When someone shows up and says I hate this, the answer is thank you. Thank you for caring enough to try it. Thank you for caring enough to let me know that I shouldn’t bother you again. Thank you for giving me a chance to point you to someone else who will help you so I can earn some trust and repay your trust of me. Thank you. When someone says no one should go here, we just need to ignore that person because they’re wrong.
I feel like people forget that the most beloved things… You use the example of Harry Potter and the book that over 21 thousand reviews and 12% of them are one star.
One star. The worst book I ever read. Worst book I ever read. Said to the author who made more money as an author than anyone in history, “this is the worst book I ever read.” Really.
We need to all remember that. Do you still, and I don’t know because I don’t plan to. Do you still not read reviews on Amazon?
I haven’t done it in five years.
People need to hear it.
I stopped five years ago for a couple reasons. One: I realized I had never met an author who said I read all my one star reviews and now I’m a better writer. Right? It never happens. First of all, you’re never gonna write this book again. The feedback on this book doesn’t really help you. The book is already done. Secondly, all it does is seize you up and make you shut down. It’s like, well you have the right to say that. I don’t have the obligation to read it. Thank you for taking the time, but no, I don’t want to know.
Let’s talk about the distinction between feedback and advice because I thought that was subtle and vital.
Right. If you say to someone, do you have any advice for me? You will learn also it’s a wonderful thing. If you say to someone, do you have feedback for me? It feels corporate, it feels like they’re on the hook and they’re gonna give you a different kind of thing. That is, if I were you, here’s my criticism thing. You’re not me. Thank you for the feedback. Really what I was hoping for was the advice and the advice might be on an emotional level. The advice might be you are in my target market. You’re not me the creator. As someone who’s going to consume this, here. Here’s some tips. That’s really helpful. The other thing that goes on in marketing is marketing is about making assertions.
We assert and for people who believe this and who want this, this will help. We can’t do that in the rearview mirror. We can’t focus group our way to this assertion. At some point, we say to people here I made this. If you’re not comfortable saying “here, I made this,” you should probably do something else. “Here, I made this” is the joy of what we get to do. It doesn’t have to be “I sat by myself in a room and typed something.” It could be “My team of 40 people just opened this restaurant. I was part of the team, I’d love for you to try it.” We made this. That’s all the same thing. What we didn’t do is ask ten thousand people what they wanted, average up all their answers, here it is. Because then that’s average, which is another word for mediocre.
Absolutely. Boring. Forgettable. Vanilla, and not the good way. I love vanilla. You talk about a difficult yet valuable exercise for marketers that can stretch our empathy muscles. I thought this was genius. For the people that don’t choose you, why are they right? Why are the people who don’t choose you correct in their decision not to choose you?
Inside The Marketing Seminar, this is the knots people tie themselves into. What they want to say is you’re right because you’re an idiot. Or you’re right because you have bad taste.
You have no taste. You don’t even know what’s good.
Here’s the deal, empathy means I don’t know what you know, I don’t want what you want, I don’t need what you need, and that’s okay. The person who doesn’t like what you sell is right because they don’t know what you know, they don’t want what you want, they don’t need what you need. Et cetera, et cetera. The question as a marketer is to say if I could inform them of something, would they change their mind? For a lot of people the answer is still no. Fine. Shun the non-believers. It’s not for you. I get that. That’s what makes culture work. If you’re gonna spend all your time hoping that the white table cloth remains white without one spot of red wine on it, you’re gonna be a very unhappy person. Because there are no pure white table cloths left.
You state price is a story and that cheap is another way to stay scared. A low price is the last refuge for a marketer who has run out of generous ideas. That gets an amen from me.
If you are hoping to win on sort by price, you’re doomed because the internet loves sort by price and someone’s always gonna be cheaper than you. It’s a race to the bottom. Even if you do win for a little while, you’re always gonna be afraid because someone can get even cheaper than you. Low price is the refuge for the marketer who has nothing to offer, except it’s cheaper. If that’s all you have to say, then you better be the cheapest. For all the rest of us, we have to say this costs more and it’s worth it. If you’re not comfortable with that, then you don’t believe it’s worth it. That’s the challenge is to figure out how to bring the story of price to the table because the fact is, no one drives a Yugo, no one gets their hair cut with a Flowbee anymore. Because the fact is, those were cheaper but we liked paying more.
Because paying more told ourselves a story about who we were and where we are going. Paying more gives us a sense of reassurance, paying more makes us the customer, which means we get to dictate quality going forward. The gutsy thing to do is to be able to say to your customer, “This costs a lot and it’s worth even more than that.”
That’s where we have to head.
That has always made me excited, like in my business I joke around with anyone that’ll listen to me, but I’m like, “Look, I’m expensive but worth it dot com. I will do my best to put out the best free advice and information that we possibly can and we work our tails off for that consistently now, and if you’re going to engage in a training program with me, it’s going to be an investment, and it will be 20, 30, 40 times more than what you’ve invested.”
It feels really good as a business owner. You know, it’s been like 18 years now and I love that positioning because also, you wrote about this in the book, you can pay people-
A fair wage, you have margins so that you can invest in quality, you can do other things with those resources to help shift the culture, whatever culture you’re aimed towards. For anyone listening right now, and I know we have a lot of folks in our audience who feel this way, they may be getting started on their entrepreneurial journey and they want to serve a particular market that perhaps doesn’t have deep pockets. What do you say to them?
Well, I got to do a couple little bits back.
Yeah, of course.
First of all, entrepreneurs and freelancers are not the same thing. Freelancers get paid when we work, you’re freelancing right now, so am I. We didn’t send somebody else to the room. Entrepreneurs built something bigger than themselves, entrepreneurs make money when they sleep, entrepreneurs build a business they can sell. Most people who are starting out as entrepreneurs are actually freelancers. If you want to make it as a freelancer, the only thing to do is not work more hours, ’cause that hits a limit really fast, it’s get better clients because better clients challenge you more, pay you more, talk about your work more, and the work you make spreads more so you get better clients still. The only difference between a great freelancer and a struggling freelancer is who has better clients. We need to spend our time doing that.
But if you’re an entrepreneur and you say, “I am seeking to serve people who don’t have deep pockets,” you just picked your smallest viable audience. Don’t whine about the fact that they don’t have deep pockets, you picked them. If that’s their nature, then you’re going to need more of them in order to deliver what you deliver. Walmart said, “Look, there are people in Arkansas who don’t want to spend $600 for a lawnmower. We’re going to serve them, but in order for that to work, we need there to be a lot of lawnmowers we’re going to sell.” That’s got to be built into the business. You can’t say, “I want to build a bespoke business that’s truly authentic to my inner nature, and I’m going to spend all this money and I’m going to be critic proof, and it’s $1.” ‘Cause you can’t have both, unless you figure out how to get to scale.
My advice for most people who are starting out is, if you have a choice between picking a well-off audience and a not well-off audience, pick a well-off audience. Pick one… It’s not how much they have in their bank, it’s how much are they willing to spend to solve this problem because people without a big balance will still spend a lot to solve a particular problem if you’re worth it, right?
And if it’s important to them. And it also too, I think, it’s worth noting, and you talked about this in the book, like think about how free ideas spread. If you have a particular idea that you want to get out into the world, you have all of these free tools, exactly what we’re doing right now.
And it’s been the model for me frankly, I love sharing ideas. I love having genius people on the show that we can say, “Hey, think about this. This could help you really make a change in your business or your life,” knowing that there’s tens of thousands, millions of people that have seen shows like this, they will never buy anything from me. That makes me happy.
Because if I can make the impact out there for folks that are never going to come to an event or sign up for a training program, so I don’t want to discount that either because it’s like we’re living in this miraculous time.
Oh, yeah. There’s two ends to this curve. There’s relatively expensive and there’s free, as in free beer and free love and free, free, free.
Free is this magical thing that the internet has supercharged because what free earns you is trust and attention. Trust and attention are the two building blocks of the modern economy, not a factory because no one owns a factory anymore. You can outsource the factory part, but you can’t bring change to the world unless you have attention, ’cause no one knows you’re there, and trust, so that people give you the benefit of the doubt. Where do trust and attention come from? They come from experience. Where does the experience come from? Free samples.
The idea that we can put effort into a concept, a video, an audiobook, a podcast, and have it reach lots of people, even if all we want to do is make money, that is a really great path. But the other part that’s super cool is let’s say it’s not your day job, all you want to do is make things better, that’s another unbelievable opening, is that you can put something into the world that makes things better and it doesn’t cost you anything every time it makes someone better.
If you own a factory and everyone comes for a free sample, you go out of business. But if you make ideas and everyone comes for a free sample, you do great.
It’s very true. So, I want to have you, if it’s okay, read the last little section in here that I’ve noted because I feel like it’s the perfect way to wrap up this conversation. Like I said, guys, I cannot recommend this book enough. Y’all, if you know me any amount of time you know how much I love marketing, and this book is filled with marketing timeless genius.
You are so kind.
It’s right there. It’s the truth. I don’t blow smoke. You know me.
“There’s a difference between being good at what you do, being good at making a thing, and being good at marketing. We need your craft, without a doubt, but we need your change even more. It’s a leap to choose to make change. It feels risky, fraught with responsibility, and it might not work.
“If you bring your best self to the world, your best work, and the world doesn’t receive it, it’s entirely possible that your marketing sucked. It’s entirely possible that you have empathy for what people are feeling. It’s entirely possible that you chose the wrong axes and that you failed to go to the edges. It’s entirely possible you were telling the wrong story to the wrong person in the wrong way on the right day, or even on the wrong day. Fine. But that’s not about you. That’s about your work as a marketer, and you can get better at that craft.
Brilliant. Anything else you’d like to leave us with?
Oh, could we talk for two more hours?
Yeah, of course we can.
I learn so much when I’m with you. The passion and connectedness that you bring to this audience, we’re all so lucky that you are in the forefront of making these changes for people. Then, I’m proud to be a marketer, you’re proud to be a marketer, we’re upping the game here for lots of people. So, thank you.
Now, Seth and I would love to hear from you. We talked about so many good things, but I’m curious, what’s the one insight that you’re taking away, and, most important, how can you put that insight into action starting right now?
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