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The 10 Commandments of Marketing from Seth Godin

Seth Godin is a household name around the world
by Sarah Moriarty | Oct 29 2015

His books—on everything from how ideas spread to the post-industrial revolution—have been translated into 35 languages. But you might first have heard of him on his blog, which you can find by simply typing “seth” into Google.

the-10-commandments-of-marketing-from-seth-godin

Let’s run that back: you can find Seth Godin’s blog just by typing “seth” into Google, meaning his, of the millions of pages out there, is the first thing to come up in one of the world’s most powerful search engines. Logical conclusion: this guy obviously knows a thing or two about marketing.

But why go with two when you can have 10?

Here, we’ve combed through some of Seth Godin’s most popular books on marketing and condensed their most important messages into 10 quick tips you can start using today. Read on to get the essence of Purple Cow, Linchpin, All Marketers are Liars, Permission Marketing, and Tribes.


1. Catch people’s attention with a purple cow.

From billboards to pop-ups to print ads and podcast plugs, we’re constantly bombarded by advertisements. If you want people to notice your offer in a sea of attention grabs, you’ve got to be special. That means that you’ve got to provide something really new, or at least present it that way with smart advertising.

In his book, Purple Cow, Godin explains that in order to get your product or service to stand out in the market and be immediately noticeable, you need to make it a purple cow, or wholly different and eye-catching. This means the marketing behind it has to be remarkable, too.

A great example of remarkable marketing can be found in the Beats by Dre headphones. Designed by a music production legend like Dre (and a team of hand-picked sound engineers, of course), these headphones stand out as a product for their bold, distinctive design as well as for their association with Dre. Serious music fans can’t help but take notice, and even non-serious ones recognize the Dr. Dre name-drop. The winning combo of celebrity status and technical quality makes the product remarkable.

2. Get a great slogan.

The heart of product marketing lies in the actual product. However, Godin underscores in Purple Cow that your slogan—a simple, memorable set of words that convey the main message behind your offer—is essential for expressing your product’s heart.

Among the most famous slogans out there is Nike’s “Just do it.” It’s a fantastic example of a short, clear, and very accurate slogan. Whoever sees this statement gets instantly reminded of the fact that the most important thing about athletics is the action itself. Not only does the Nike slogan motivate people to get moving, but it also succinctly expresses Nike’s brand ethos: action, activity, and athletic excellence. Oh—and with a helping of snazzy, functional workout gear on the side, too.

3. Overall authenticity is more important than the perfect first impression.

In All Marketers are Liars, Godin makes a careful distinction: there’s a difference, he says, between the first moment people get to know a brand and when that brand makes its first impression on them. “People mix first contact and first impression,” he writes. “Even though first impressions are crucial, you never know which input is going to generate the first impression that matters.“

What does this mean? In general, that every impression counts because you never know which one’s going to be the one that lasts. To ensure that the first impression people get is always great, focus on authenticity—when your business comes from a place of authenticity, so will your marketing campaigns.

Godin counsels to find the kernel of truth at the core of your business and build your communications from there, rather than layering palatable but vague—or even inaccurate—brand messages on top. The bottom line is that it’s exhausting and useless to stress yourself out with creating the perfect impression, so focus on your core values and on integrity instead.

4. Your brand stories’ first priority is to enhance the value of the product, not to manipulate customers.

In keeping with the previous point on authenticity, Godin reminds in All Marketers are Liars that a brand story should never lie to a customer—and that extends to embroidering in features that are not intrinsic to the product itself.

In a nutshell, storytelling only works when the story actually makes the product or service better.

Having a great story is critical for many reasons: it hooks a customer, pulls her into the fold, and perhaps most important, keeps the brand relevant.

A great example of a story that does all three of these things is that of rapper 2Pac. 2Pac had a shining rap career, gangster-glam friends, and is famous for his straight-shooting, emotive flow. The circumstances of his death are still unclear and subject of debate among fans. Unreleased songs, life documentaries, and even comments from modern rappers extend the story associated with 2Pac. Important to emphasize is that none of this was made-up marketing, but is actually rooted in the fascinating life experience of an extraordinary man. These compelling stories are what’s kept 2Pac’s brand relevant and compelling even post mortem.

5. Whenever you hire, look for linchpins.

We all know what it’s like to have a colleague who puts in only the minimum amount of work. What you want instead of people like this are passionate, versatile, and highly skilled people he calls “linchpins.”

“Linchpins are like artists: they pour all their energy, heart, and soul into their work,” Godin explains in Linchpin. “They don’t need detailed instructions from managers but rather find their own way of solving problems and doing their job. And they do this with such flair and passion that they gain a reputation. While others stand on the sidelines, linchpins stop the show.”

But how do you know what you’re looking for when you’re hiring? A famous linchpin example is Steve Wozniak, who was known for the broad programming contributions and indefatigability of his early days of Apple, Inc. Particularly when the company faced seemingly insurmountable challenges, he worked hard and surprised everybody with his creative technological ideas. Employees like Wozniak—with drive, creativity, and initiative galore—are the kinds of people who will help your business thrive.

6. Want attention from customers? Ask!

A few decades ago, providing a decent product at a fair price was enough to be successful. Now, there are a wealth of similar products out there and what and whether we buy is tightly wound up in our identity and values.

In Permission Marketing, Godin explains that when they’re treated as active participants in the process, consumers are more likely to pay attention to the marketing message. So, rather than asking them to commit their banknotes to a product or service, ask them to commit their attention to learn more. By responding to your ask, they’ve agreed to hear what you have to say.

And some consumers respond more than others! Take the “Prosumer” for instance: a hybrid of a consumer and a producer. A prosumer might be someone who buys brand new smartphones as soon as they’re released, takes heaps of pictures with it, and writes reviews on Amazon about the picture quality. This way, the manufacturer can adjust the technical components of the camera to make it better, which brings it full circle: the consumer becomes a producer.

7. Build trust and everything else will follow.

Step by step, you should establish a lasting relationship to your customer. This should start situationally and involve smaller offers that broaden and deepen from the initial contact.

Whether or not they’re prosumers, once potential customers have volunteered their attention, the business continues the process by building up a relationship with them. For the local handyman, this could involve setting up a private consultation with the interested consumer. He could seal the deal by offering an attractive price for a small introductory service such as painting a room in the house.

Another example is American Airlines’ technique. They often have frequent flyer programs that allow customers to collect bonus points that go toward free travel. This encourages loyalty as customers have an incentive to stick with one airline only. In return, the airlines gain customers’ trust, thus their permission to collect data and send relevant marketing.

8. You need word-of-mouth exposure.

Build enough trust with your customers and you get the king of all advantages—they’ll treat you and your business like friends.

Godin’s Permission Marketing points out that when customers see a business more as a friend than a stranger, they’re more likely to stay loyal to that business. It’s also likely that the customer will spread the word about the product and bring in new customers at no additional marketing expense.

An extraordinary case of the power of word-of-mouth support that’s built on a stable foundation is spiritual author Eckhart Tolle. His book The Power of Now has sold millions of copies and has been translated into dozens of languages. Tolle is also famous for being quoted and promoted constantly in spiritual and self-help circles. All this, and very little’s been done in the way of marketing: it all started with one slim volume promoted by word-of-mouth. Tolle’s product was great enough for people to talk about and promote his “brand” of their own volition.

9. Build relationships to tribes instead of single individuals.

Treating each customer as an individual is important, but remember that they make up specific tribes—communities of like-minded, like-feeling individuals that people construct all by themselves.

Tribes are some of the most elemental of social groupings, with us since we roamed fields and lived in caves. Where once tribes were local, the internet—and especially social-media—has rendered geography a non-issue. Also due to social media, a tribe’s influence is no longer directly correlated to its size, but rather to the causes for which it stands and how they use the tools of communication available to them.

Take for instance members of Facebook groups. There is an overall topic for the groups and every member is allowed to share relevant content. Even though there are often no meetings in real life, a social bond between the members of these groups often exists. Figure out how to communicate with the tribes that make up your customer base and you’ve already won.

10. Learn the communication tools that let you best engage with your tribes.

In Tribes, Godin goes on to explain that new technologies are all designed to connect tribes and amplify their work. So, where do your tribes gather? It might be Facebook, or Instagram or Twitter—and maybe, today, it’s even Snapchat. Wherever your tribes like to meet, each of these tools has its own idiosyncrasies. This includes not just the tool’s features like the ability to share videos, text, and pictures, but also particular social dynamics those features weave.

For example, having followers on Twitter differs from having many on Facebook. Why? Because Twitter is more about the quick sharing of tiny texts and links, where Facebook provides the capacity to explain things in more detail, resulting in deeper understanding and wider connections. On the other hand, you could argue that Twitter users could be more clever, since they deliver and understand very short messages. All this is caused by the restriction to 140 characters on Twitter versus no restriction on Facebook.

Your particular product or service has a tribe, and that tribe has a territory. First, figure out what yours is, what it allows for, and what that says about the people who make up that pack. Then, use that knowledge to your product—and your customers’—best advantage!

Ready for more of Godin’s insights on marketing and more? Check out the summaries for each of these books on Blinkist.

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