All Marketers Are Liars

The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works

Seth Godin (Marketing Guru) on Story-Telling. Vital for understanding how to build a product that has a story.

30 second summary

The days of finding success by making a good product and telling consumers that it’s “better” are gone. People do not trust Marketers. Today, your brand, your website, your product, your building – it all tells a story. The more consistently you tell that story, the more you will attract those with a similar worldview, and that is how trust is built. People by their nature want to interact with brands and products they trust.

Key Concepts

Two Steps to Success
Godin’s advice is simple. First, make remarkable products. Second, tell stories about what you created. And make the stories great!

Stories are Special
Ford makes Jaguars and Nikes are made in factories around the world. Though I’m not sure I agree, Godin says making good products is easier than ever. What is rare and special is the storytelling that accompanies a product.

Everywhere Authentic
In the modern world, nearly everything a company does is visible to the market. Not only that, but it’s less predictable to know how someone will first interact with your brand (e.g. on facebook, in a review, from a friend, from a website, on the shelf). With these circumstances, it’s more important than ever to be authentic in everything you do as a company. The story must be consistently evident.

Stories Affect Perception
Stories affect product performance. Believing a wine to be expensive makes it taste better. Believing a golf club makes more putts makes the player putt better.

Don’t Be Fraudulent
Fibs and white lies are OK. Fraud is not. Know the difference.

Appealing to Emotions
People make decisions in the Blink of an eye. We’re hardwired to make emotional, immediate decisions. The concept that you can make logical arguments to sell to a human is flawed. Stories and the emotions they evoke close the sale. People don’t buy what you sell, they don’t buy what they need…they buy what they want.

Posts and Articles to come. For now, a bunch of notes I took as I read the book.

All marketers are telling a story. They are not necessarily liars; they are storytellers.

Before TV, all you had to do was have a skill or a product and a fair price and distribution. Then came the golden age of TV; you could run a commercial and promote an average product and people would buy it. These were simpler times. These days, you have to do more. You have to live the story you’re selling.

You have to be true to the story in everything you do, because everything you do is visible. You have to believe the story you are telling and “lie to yourself.” Your building, your website, your receptionist – all those things combine to tell a story about you and your product. When those things all align consistently, that is what makes the story authentic.

People can sense when something is not authentic. Categorically, people do not trust marketers. People don’t trust TV commercials. People don’t trust telemarketers. Trust is a rare commodity.

Drug manufacturers spend more on marketing and sales than on RND. Telling the story can be said to be more important than inventing the drug.

Story about wine glasses that make wine taste better; the real estate agent who drives you around the neighborhood and tells you a story about the people and homes; this is storytelling marketing. You can actually improve the product you’re selling by telling an effective story.

When someone buys a pair of $125 dollar puma shoes, they are buying the experience of making the purchase and the story they tell themselves. They are not buying a pair of shoes. They are not buying facts and features and benefits.

The more subtle your story is, the better, because it’s really the consumer who tells the story to him or herself. The consumer lies to himself. You the marketer plant the seed that allows them to do this, and the more subtle you can be, the more the consumer believes they have told the story, and people trust themselves.

People come with a worldview. Their worldview is their outlook and cumulative experience. It is their rules, values, beliefs, and biases, which they bring with them into every situation.

Do not try to change people to see your worldview! Changing people’s minds is extremely difficult/nearly impossible, especially when it comes to critical things like politics. The only thing you can hope to do is to capture people who have the worldview that aligns with your story.

A community is a group of people who share the same worldview and communicate with one another.

People’s worldviews got there before you (the marketer) did.

Framing. Frames are words and images that reinforce a bias. Calling someone a “fanatical right wing fundamentalist” or “a person with deeply held religious beliefs” are two different ways to frame someone. Frame your story to resonate with a worldview.

Find a worldview shared by many people, frame a story around that worldview, and make the idea easy to spread.

People notice things that are different. When your odometer flips to 000, you notice it subconsciously. The moment someone notices something new, they start making guesses about what to expect.

People make snap judgments (Malcolm Gladwell, Blink). After the snap judgement, people then work to rationalize anything thereafter to align with that judgement because of cognitive bias (people don’t like to be wrong). The decision to believe a story is made quickly and is based on gut instincts; it’s not logical or rational.

Humans have been trained in evolution to make quick decisions and be superstitious. We are not super rational and logical.

You cannot predict when your first touch point with a consumer will be. That’s why you need to be authentic in everything you do. One little interaction on the phone can ruin an otherwise good story because that’s the touch point that a consumer will remember.

Being authentic everywhere inoculates you from being found-out or from someone not experiencing your story as you want them to.

Stories can and often do make products perform better.

Stories are not quite lies – they are fibs. However, there are such things as outright frauds, and Godin is not advocating defrauding people.

Godin says that making stuff isn’t that hard anymore. Ford makes Jaguars. Nike shoes are made in a Vietnam factory. “It’s easier than ever to get something made, shipped, and stocked, and to ensure quality.” What is specialized and nuanced these days is the storytelling.

Two things make products successful. First, create remarkable products (things worth talking about). Second, tell stories about what you created. Make up great stories. This is urgent! Don’t just make a good widget slightly better.

Interesting story about making purchases as an employee of a company. What you are buying is justification to your boss and explanation to others. Sure, the product matters once you have it, but the purchase depends on a lot more than the durability of the product. People buy things based on how it makes them feel.

When Godin meets with people about their products, they invariably point out how better their product than the competition. But people don’t buy incremental benefits; they buy the story. “We don’t want what you sell, friend, we buy what we want.” People don’t buy what they need; they buy what they want. They buy stuff they want because of the way it makes them feel.

Irrational beliefs about a product aren’t a distraction – they are an intrinsic part of the quality of the product.

Consumers are all different, but they all want the same outcome: to be healthy wealthy and wise.

Successful stories never offer the normal run of the mill stuff like high quality, convenience, warranty, few defects. None of the attributes you are listing is story-worthy. They are not remarkable. Nobody wants to talk about them. Nobody wants a slightly better drill-bit or a better tasting muffin.

Start here: “What classic story can I tell?”

If you tell the same story to the same people as a competitor who is already successful, you will not win. You need to tell a different story to a group of people with a different world view. For example, when all the competitors were talking about fast bikes, Trek told a story about more comfortable bikes.

Stories which are repeated are, by definition, remarkable stories.

Attack the edges of market segments. This happens in politics: get the fringe fired up and get your base excited, then gracefully move to the middle so you can capture more people. This is why Godin titled the book “All Marketers are Liars.” He could have used the word “Storytellers,” but nobody would talk about that book.

The product is nothing but a souvenir of your trip to the store and a reminder of the way you felt when you bought it.

Case study: Sirius radio. When people weren’t buying it, it was because they didn’t have a problem with terrestrial radio. Lowering the price of a product that doesn’t solve a problem won’t increase sales; you wouldn’t pay $100 or $1 for an anvil (or some other product) you don’t need. When Howard Stern moved to Sirius, now there was a problem – people couldn’t hear Stern on normal radio. Sirius was the product that fixed that problem.