Boy, is this good. A fun read packed with insights. This came out in 2018 and what strikes me is how timely it is. Identity seems to be the focal point of the present era: just think of identity politics, intricate group codes, wokeness, gender fluidity, and fierce backlash against all of that at the same time. So many lines drawn in the sand - and most of them circles, if you allow me to wax poetic. Godin doesn't address this head on, but the importance of group identity clearly shines through in what he considers the main sentiment driving successful marketing: "People like us do things like this."

Main takeaway:

The overal message seems to be that the new and improved marketer should truly be of service in order to make change happen. Or in Seth's words: "Good marketers don't use consumers to solve their company's problem; they use marketing to solve other people's problems." He takes it even further: "Marketing is the generous act of helping others become who they seek to become." Rather than being sales driven, or market driven, brands should aim to be change driven. What is the change your group is looking for?

Start with the question: Who can I help?

Biggest insights:

Everyone's story is true: learn to listen

Humans tell themselves stories. And even when you don't agree with them, to them they are true. So don't waste your time or theirs by trying to persuade them otherwise. You are better off finding the group that is interested in the change you seek to make to begin with. Even then, they are not you. We need to imagine the story that they need to hear. True marketing asks for humility and empathy to really listen as well as the audacity to live up to your story.

Find your smallest viable market

"Mass means undefined, non-descript and thus, boring. No love for you." Find your sweet spot, as specific as possible, and market to the group that relates to it. Satisfy their needs like no other, offer ways for them to connect around a story. Talk about the change you're seeking to make and how that relates to them. Create a shared narrative: "People like us do things like this". Give them a reason to share that story - the one that you are a part of. "The goal of focusing on the smallest viable audience is to find people who will understand you and will fall in love with where you hope to take them. Loving you is a way of expressing themselves. Becoming part of your movement is an expression of who they are." "What you say isn't nearly as important as what others say about you."

Creating tension

Tap into the network effect: by spreading the gospel, their own experience is improved in some way. Think of products like Slack or Facebook that depend on others to be part of it to work. Create a tension that offers them an improvement in status. Or simply tap into not wanting to be left behind, or feeling uninformed or impotent. "We want to get ahead. We want to be in sync. We want to do what people like us are doing."

What people really want.

In the end, there is a limited number of true drivers. Like being connected. Feeling safe, seen, known, appreciated, strong, independent, desirable, all of those wants and motivators. All of those things also cloud our rational judgment. We're driven by so many innate wants that to build your marketing around rational reasoning and product USP's is a mistake - a point also partially made by Kahneman. I am not driven by rational choices, and neither are you, nor your clients. What's more; don't assume that everyone is like you, knows what you know, or wants what you want. Rather, your brand story and the actions you take to serve your chosen tribe should be based on their shared wants and values: people like us do things like this.

Connect to their wants through your story, not just your product

Simply filling a hole in the market will only lead to rearview mirror based marketing behaviour, adapting your offering based on performance or spotted needs. You end up offering a (new) commodity that can be copied, bested or undercut in price by others. It has to be your story that sets you apart. A story does many great things for you, as we all know by now, but the interesting insight by Seth is that a story also requires audacity. In the short term, it's easy to sell average commodities to average consumers, where you simply adapt according to market needs - till someone better comes along. But living up to your own story holds you accountable. It forces you to own up to it, and show your true colours. It's an audacious and generous act, where you say "I see a better way to do things, come join me." It's also why brands can be a key driver in making the world a better place - as opposed to generic brand products, they can be held accountable.

Seth Godin's Marketing in 5 steps:

1) Invent a thing worth making, with a story worth telling, and a contribution worth talking about.

2) Design and build it in a way that a few people will particularly benefit from and care about.

3) Tell a story that matches the built-in narrative and dreams of that tiny group of people, the smallest viable market.

4) Spread the word.

5) Show up regularly and generously to organize and lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make. Earn permission to follow up and earn enrollment to teach.

To wrap it up, a great exercise

"What if you had to charge 10 times as much? It's not about putting in 10x as many hours, or delivering 10x the quantity. What is the essence of what you're offering? Which basic want do you address? And how could you do this better?"

Now, if that doesn't give you focus, you may want to rethink your reason to exist as a brand.


Marketing is the act of making change happen. Changing minds, changing demand, changing perception. You can do this by creating a change for the smallest viable market. Find a group with a shared belief, a shared need or interest and serve them to the very best of your ability. By finding out what it is they're looking for in the first place and creating a shared story around it that you live up to. Grow the tribe by creating tension and relief. By establishing cultural norms. By tapping into status roles. The best way to make things better, is to make better things. It's about being missed when you're gone.

The elegance of this book is that it all ties together. None of it is per se completely new, but it is a comprehensive marketing book for this time. Sure, Godin is a little preachy about using marketing to create a better world, but I think our industry has deserved some of that. Besides, most marketers and advertising creatives I know will probably subscribe to his point of view.