In this issue
|Rowan Manahan explains Seth Godin's rationale for accusing marketers of leading us astray|
Memories are recalled of sitting in the Tivoli Theatre watching the incomparable Bill Hicks doing stand-up. He shouted out to the audience: "By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising... kill yourself! There's no joke here, you are Satan's little helpers; there's no excusing what you do; do the world a favour and go suck on a tail pipe."
At the time, your truly was in marketing and as Hicks spoke, I slumped down lower and lower in my seat, hoping to go unnoticed. Seth Godin, espouses many of Hicks' ideas, but in a more palatable and useful way. All Marketers Are Liars is Godin's seventh book, all of which are about highlighting ideas in today's deafeningly noisy marketplace.
His thesis is simple: People notice only the new and then they make a guess. Buying decisions are made on the basis of emotional wants, not simple needs. So whether you are selling consumer goods or high-end luxury items, you must work from that understanding.
'Godin's thesis is simple: people notice only the new and then they make a guess' - Rowan Manahan
Having met many marketers who seem to understand this is how purchasers operate, few build their approach around it. The days when "marketing = advertising" and one could rely on an immediate consumer response to a strong ad effort are long gone.
In a globalised, homogenised world, you have to find something about your product that stands out ("make it a purple cow") and then, you have to compete for head-space in the mind of your audience. All Marketers Are Liars is highly readable and thought-provoking.
There are lots of dog ears in my copy for future reference. The author's writing is clean and unequivocal, with a wry sense of humour displayed throughout. It doesn't so much turn your worldview upside-down, as nudge you into new and less than comfortable territory.
Godin refers to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and compares the 'thin slicing' concept with marketing. It occurs when a potential purchaser becomes aware of your brand. In an instant, we make up our minds and from then we only notice things that bear out that judgement.
Godin shows true understanding of the human psyche. A person who votes for a politician who turns out to be venal, incompetent, mendacious and self-serving will continue to vote for that politician even if he/she has proved inept over a long period in power.
The voter does this not because they are happy with the bang-up job that the politician is doing, but rather because to vote for anther candidate is to admit that they were wrong in the first place, cognitive dissonance in a nutshell and poo- pooing 'switching' your way to greatness.
If Microsoft made cars that behaved in the same way as the bloated, bug-ridden, user-hostile Windows operating system; consumers would have risen up en masse, sued them out of existence and firebombed their factories.
But in the same way that no amount of pointing out Betamax's inherent superiority over the VHS format was going to switch VCR owners back to Sony's format, Apple will never assume global dominance in the PC market. It all comes down to lies.
Godin is careful to distinguish between stories, fibs, lies and frauds, using Philip Morris' "The Cigarette Preferred By Doctors!" campaign as a poignant example. He points out that trying to carry out a fraud in today's world of instantaneous communication is suicidal.
But, he constantly reminds us, there are some lies that we just love to tell ourselves. A pen from Mont Blanc is worth €500, a square metre of silk from Hermès is worth €250 and Avalon Organic Soap is worth 30 times as much as generic soap - to some buyers.
What Godin cannot answer is the eternal dilemma of the marketer; which lie do I tell to whom? In today's market, there's no margin in yelling loudly at strangers. Porsche have found their story and their customers tell themselves the right lie.
What is the difference between a five litre, V10 Volkswagen Touareg at €108,640 and a 4.8 litre, V8 Porsche Cayenne at €165,400? Okay, the Porsche has 187bhp more and different suspension. But the chassis, body and all the major parts all come off the one assembly line.
Is there really €57,000 worth of difference between these cars? In Godin's world, to some buyers, who have told themselves a story and created their own lie, yes there is a chasm.
All Marketers Are Liars is part rant, part anthropology, part psychology, part economics and all marketing. Its ideas are infectious and contagious; have fun spreading them. You should never judge a book by its cover, but here, Godin, has you at the Pinocchio nose.
Rowan Manahan is director of Fortify Services career consultancy.