Book Review: This Is Marketing by Seth Godin

Book Review: This Is Marketing by Seth Godin

cover of book "This Is Marketing" which is mostly text, with a face in one letter

Someone at my day job recommended This is Marketing by Seth Godin (Portfolio, 2018). The book explores today’s marketing (as opposed to that of a few decades ago), highlighting the changes brought by the Internet. The book’s content seems a far cry from traditional marketing advice. A lot of the ideas resonated with me.

The main theme seems to be that marketing used to mean advertising, but today it means serving others and solving their problems. With this new type of marketing, there are no shortcuts, but it is a viable path to success.

Advice for Authors

As I read, I was thinking of how to use the content at my day job but also for the local farmer’s market (I’m on the board), for my freelance editing business, and especially for me as a self-published author. A few chapters seemed highly relevant to authors:

magnifying glass focused on five smiling people's faces, in a ring
  • You cannot reach everyone, so you should try to reach the people who will love your product; Godin describes the “smallest viable market.” If you reach these people, they will endorse you and spread the word. (Chapter 3)
  • And, instead of thinking in terms of demographics, group people by psychographics of what they believe in, dream of, etc. (Chapter 3)
  • These days people have endless alternatives. Trade their time and attention for something they really want. Make a product so good they seek it out—you won’t have to pitch it. Light a beacon to help YOUR people find your product. (Chapter 5)
  • Chapter 15 differentiated between direct marketing (like paying for ads) and brand marketing. Online ads sound great, but they are mostly ignored. Most of us low-budget small businesses need to do brand marketing. You must be patient and engage with people and not try to measure results.
  • Your goal is not to appear first in every generic Internet search, but to have people type in your name—to have them specifically searching for you because they want your product and not a generic alternative. (Chapter 15)
Scrabble chips spelling out audience, relevant, target, and content

When my bicycle trip memoir came out, I tried to think of all the audiences I might target (bicyclists, outdoor enthusiasts, women who travel). But I never felt comfortable enough to move forward with the marketing tasks. I knew some people would not like the book, and felt too nervous about their reactions.

Now, though, I know whom I want to reach: people who have trouble being in the present moment and silencing the noise in their heads, as I did when I went on my bike trip. I’m planning to rewrite my metadata and back cover copy to better target this group by more clearly showing the book’s contents, instead of trying to make the book appeal to as many groups as I can.

Advice on Branding

person holding pencil, drawing logos with the letter R in a sketch pad

This Is Marketing also considers branding. Describing my brand is a struggle for me because I am currently writing fiction, but I also have a bread persona from the past, plus the bike trip memoir. And my fiction manuscripts seem to be in three mismatched genres (I’m still trying to pinpoint what they are). But my worries aside, here are some of the book’s ideas:

  • Consider what brand you immediately think of when you want to feel a certain way like “Safe” or “Powerful.” If a word made people think of your brand, what would the word be? (Chapter 5)
  • People scan instead of reading, and they make assumptions about you based on what they see at a glance; this is why you need a professional looking website. If a person sees your materials and thinks “unprofessional, must be a scam,” that feeling will stick, even if it is irrational (e.g., plenty of good organizations have dated-looking websites).
  • This is also why book covers work better if they look professional and, sadly, similar to other books in the genre; the sameness signals to readers that the book fits in with what they like to read. The ideal case is to have a cover that fits in enough to be trusted but is also unique enough to attract interest.
  • Many logos look the same because the company is trying to remind you of a “solid company.” Remember, it is the viewer’s opinion that matters, not the designer’s.
  • NOT “flying a flag” is not an option; not having a presence online, for example, will lead to assumptions about you.
  • Think of phone companies. They don’t really have a brand, and people switch between them easily. You want your brand to be something people can’t get anywhere else and something they care about. (Chapter 13)

What Are Your Strong Points?

Chapter 5 included a concept that helped me brainstorm: Different people value different attributes, like price or quality. Figure out where your product falls in the range of each attribute; which ones are your strong points? These will determine your target audience.

Even better, can you find an attribute that has been overlooked? If so, you can be the first to offer it.

  • I first thought of my editing business. I sometimes feel uneasy because I never worked at a publishing house, and I don’t have decades of experience. But, I’ve passed editing tests to copyedit for several companies and gotten positive feedback from authors, I think I am pretty friendly to work with, and I’m always willing to do a sample to show potential clients what to expect from me. So I might make a plot like one of these:
Two plots showing pedigree versus quality, and years versus ease of working with me, with "Emily" plotted on each as described in the text
  • Then I thought, what attributes can a book possibly have? Hopefully the writing is high quality, but the price is pretty standard. But I thought of two plots for my bike trip memoir: (1) I’m not famous, but my story is authentic and readers can share the journey with me, and (2) I’m not traditionally published, but I’ve been told I am a good storyteller. So I might have plots like these:
Two plots showing celebrity versus authenticity, and storytelling versus professional looking book, with "My Memoir" plotted on each as described in the text
  • Regarding the attribute of price, trust does not work rationally, and cheap prices often lead to distrust. Price is a signal about your product, and people make assumptions based on it. But also, remember the attributes and what your audience values; they may value a low price or they may value something else more. (Chapter 16) 

Other Advice I Liked

the words "marketing strategy" written in chalk on a dusty chalkboard

Here are some final bits that I could not fit in above.

  • We’re not really selling products, we’re selling feelings or status or connection. How will your product give the buyer emotions? Products change, but the underlying emotions stay the same. (Chapter 7)
  • Big hits started with small numbers. We only learn about the hit after it is a big hit, so it seems like it magically appeared that way. (Chapter 3)
  • You can match the existing pattern (but this makes you forgettable) or you can interrupt it (but this might not work). Try to break the pattern just enough that you are unique, without leaving people behind. Hook some people, and they will pass your product on to others. (Chapter 10)
  • People’s attention is scarce. Get permission to contact them and then send anticipated, personal, and relevant messages. Create a situation where they’d miss you if you were gone. Have your own permission asset (like a mailing list), without a company (like Facebook) as an intermediary. This takes time and there is no shortcut. (Chapter 17)
  • Make it easy for people to spread the word about you; ideas travel horizontally,customer to customer, not from you down to them. (Chapter 17)
  • And from the inspiring Chapter 23, some marketing is evil. But marketing can also be good and make the world better. It should be transparent and bring joy. Marketing is a craft you can improve, so if you feel like you are failing, don’t blame your product, just learn to market better. There are people out there who need your product.

Although some material in the book repeated, and at times I had trouble following it, the short length of the sections made it easy to get through, and there were many broad ideas and nuggets of wisdom to take away. I recommend this book to anyone with a product to market.


Posts on this blog are copied from Emily’s blog at http://emilybuehler.com/news/. Subscribe by email to that blog for more practical tips for authors, editors, and self-publishers, as well as occasional thoughts from Emily and news on Emily’s writing and events.

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