I am a huge fan of Seth Godin. Which is why I picked up “This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See”. If I had to summarise the message from the book in one sentence, it would be that you need to think the smallest market possible.
SEO is a waste of time
Your BIG sales funnel is not going to be a magical fountain of results. Search engine optimisation and the salt mines of the Google ecosystem are based on a myth. Nobody is waiting for you. Nobody cares. On the other hand, a smart marketer can build a product or service that’s worth searching for. Not the generic term, but to find you, the thing you built, the specific. When you do that, Google’s on your side. They actually want you to be found when someone searches for you. Step one is to make a product or service that people care enough to search for specifically.
You are not going to get traction
Here’s the truth about customer traction: a miracle isn’t going to happen. The dream is that with public relations, with hype, with promotion, with distribution, with ad buys, with influence marketing, with content marketing, and with a little bit of spam … the dream is that it will become the “it” thing, and everyone will want it. It will be popular precisely because it’s popular. Not going to happen. The alternative is to seek a path, not a miracle.
Marketing as you know it is dead. Every question about marketing is really the question, “Whom can you help?” Empathy is at the heart of marketing. It is about the long game. You’re here to serve. Marketing as the generous act of helping others become whom they seek to become. Marketing involves creating honest stories—stories that resonate and spread. Marketing as persistent, consistent, and frequent stories, delivered to an aligned audience, will earn attention, trust, and action.
Earn the attention
It is not about shouting, interruption and short-term, profit-maximisation. It’s about attention. Scarce attention. Marketers had been stealing it, abusing it, and wasting it. There’s an alternative. The privilege of delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages to people who want to get them. Real permission works like this: If you stop showing up, people are concerned. They ask where you went. Permission is like dating. You don’t start by asking for the sale at first impression. You earn the right, over time, bit by bit.
How many people would reach out and wonder (or complain) if you didn’t send out that next email blast? That’s a metric worth measuring and increasing. My favourite is the impact equation. Who takes action when you ask?
Start very small
Think super niche. Think the smallest market possible. Think fanbase of hundred. Think one. Forget the internet as a mass medium. It is irrelevant. The internet is a billion tiny whispers, an endless series of selfish conversations that rarely include you or the work you do. If you can only delight six hundred people, the best way to begin is by choosing which six hundred people. Organise your project, your life, and your organisation around the minimum. What’s the smallest market you can survive on? The smallest viable market is the focus that, ironically and delightfully, leads to your growth.
What change do you seek to make? Once you know what you stand for, the rest gets a lot easier. You need to be incredibly specific. And shun the nonbelievers! Go to the extremes. Find people who will understand you and will fall in love with where you hope to take them. Find a position on the map where you, and you alone, are the perfect answer. Are there people in the world who want you to succeed so badly that they’re willing to pay you to produce the change you seek to make? Specific also means accountable. It worked, or it didn’t. It matched, or it didn’t. It spread, or it didn’t.
In a world of choice, where we have too little time, too little space, and too many options, how do we choose? That involves going to extremes. Finding an edge. Standing for something, not everything. Be very different. When you know what you stand for, you don’t need to compete. And it is very liberating. It means you walk away from the ocean and look for a large swimming pool. That’s enough to make a difference. Begin there, with obsessive focus. Once it works, find another swimming pool. Even better, let your best customers spread the idea.
The most important thing to figure out is the lifetime value of a customer. That makes each new customer even more valuable because they become your engine of growth. The first thousand customers, if they’re the right people, are practically priceless.
Every very good customer gets you another one. Your best customers become your new evangelists. How many people are insisting that their friends and colleagues use it? As in right now. Do they love it? Do they love themselves more because they love you? For the independent creator of intellectual property (a singer, perhaps, or a writer), it turns out that a thousand true fans might be. The challenge for most people who seek to make an impact isn’t winning over the mass market. It’s the micro-market. Our hits aren’t hits anymore, not like they used to be. Instead, they are meaningful for a few and invisible to the rest. Everyone is famous to fifteen hundred people.
Tell the story
You’re already telling yourself a story. Every day. But your story is a hook. We tell stories. We create experiences. We make connections. Each person has a story in his or her head, a narrative used to navigate the world. We all have our hope and dreams. What change are you trying to make? It’s a simple question, but a loaded one, because it implies that you’re responsible. You are an actor with intent, an agent of change, a human being working hard to change other human beings. That is the driver. That is the voice. The person with that voice is the one who gets to sit at the head of the table. A good story should:
- Connect us to our purpose and vision for our career or business.
- Allow us to celebrate our strengths by remembering how we got from there to here.
- Deepen our understanding of our unique value and what differentiates us in the marketplace.
- Reinforce our core values.
- Help us to act in alignment and make value-based decisions.
- Encourage us to respond to customers instead of reacting to the marketplace.
- Attract customers who want to support businesses that reflect or represent their values.
- Build brand loyalty and give customers a story to tell.
- Attract the kind of like-minded employees we want.
- Help us to stay motivated and continue to do work we’re proud of.
Search for a feeling, not a logical truth. Use psychographics instead of demographics. Not USP but EPOD (Emotional Points Of Difference. Your customers want a shift in their emotional states. You sell feelings, status, and connection, not tasks or stuff. They want what it will do for them. They want the way it will make them feel. What feeling are you selling?
A brand is a shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What’s your flag? Why would someone fly it? Everything you do, from the way you answer the phone to the design of your packaging, from your location to the downstream effects of your work, from the hold music to the behaviour of your executives, and even the kind of packing peanuts you use—all of it is a form of marketing your brand. You can’t measure it. You might not even notice it. But it still matters. You definitely, certainly, and surely don’t have enough time and money to build a brand for everyone. You can’t. Don’t try. Be specific. Be very specific. What’s your brand?
“Cheap” is another way to say “scared”. Pricing is a marketing tool, not merely a way to get money. Marketing changes your pricing. Pricing changes your marketing. Your price should be aligned with the extremes you claimed as part of your positioning. Price is a signal. It’s the storytelling. Unless you’ve found an extraordinary new way to deliver your service or product, racing to be the cheapest probably means that you’re not investing sufficiently in change. Low price is the last refuge of a marketer who has run out of generous ideas.
It takes a small amount of energy and guts to be authentic. You need to feel confident enough to let your true feelings be exposed, knowing that if you’re rejected, it’s personal. When a human being extends emotional labour to take responsibility—“Here, I made this”—then the door is open to connection and growth. Most of us do our most important work when we traffic in emotions. The goal isn’t to personalise the work. It’s to make it personal. Create the definitive, the most essential, the extraordinary contribution to the field. Connects to the market you’ve designed it for, and helps them see that you belong.
Make something you’re proud of. Your work is a tree. The roots live in the soil of dreams and desires. Not the dreams and desires of everyone, simply those you seek to serve. Irresistible is rarely easy or rational. But without a doubt, the heart and soul of a thriving enterprise is the irrational pursuit of becoming irresistible. Tall sunflowers have deep and complex root systems. Without them, they’d never get very high. Anchor your work deeply in the dreams, desires, and communities. Read “Perennial selling”.
Do your best work. It always starts there.