Seth Godin’s Definitive Marketing Guide for Successful Startups and Entrepreneurs
18 books later, Seth Godin has become a sensation both online and offline. Each of his books is a New York Times bestseller. He is not just an author; in 2013 he was one of three professionals inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame. On Udemy, he runs a course which has over 8k reviews and over 39k students enrolled. He is the marketing guru of marketing gurus. Some media companies call him the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur.
His blog is one of the most popular worldwide. He shares several marketing lessons there that come in small amounts, sometimes a paragraph or two long. Before launching his blog and becoming a marketing speaker in fully stocked events, Seth was the Vice President of Direct Marketing at Yahoo. He has also launched two popular businesses, both of which he sold.
Seth believes in a business model that is remarkable, unmistakable and valuable. For startups around the world, this business model can be a proper guide to achieving success. The basic mantra for Godin is to “make something happen.”
The question to ask yourself is; “is your startup making something happening or does it just exist for the sake?”
From failing hundreds of times to succeeding in the very epitome of heights, Seth Godin has seen it all and been through it. Can startups learn from his experience? Yes, they can, in fact, today.
Seth Godin’s Philosophies
1) Do not be afraid to quit
One of Godin’s secrets to success is knowing what and when to quit. It is pointless to keep trying something if you cannot see the future in it. The phrase that ‘quitters never win and winners never quit’ is what Godin calls bad advice. The truth is that winners quit the right thing at the right time.
He recommends coming up with a list of circumstances under which you are willing to stick with your startup and keep fighting. When circumstances move out of this triangle, it will be your sign that the time to quit has reached.
“Most of the time, we deal with the obstacles by persevering,” contends Seth in his book The Dip. However, too much persevering totally destroys you and your already troubled company.
2) Help yourself by helping others first
“If your marketing helps you and not your customer, why should she care?” asks Seth in one of his blogs.
Selfish marketing does not have a place in entrepreneurship. Marketing geared to sell and sell rather than help the user is not worth pursuing. Selfish marketing always fails. He argues that occasionally you might find a customer whose selfishness matches yours and they decide to buy your product or service but most of the time most customers will not care.
How then do you redeem yourself from marketing that is selfish? By helping others. Today the world thrives by knowledge. Some of the people who have knowledge sell it. Most people who have knowledge give it away for free. Generosity has come to define the better part of business.
“In 1918, the one thing you wanted to hear was ‘Make sure you have an assembly line. Make sure you have mass production.’ In 1950, the one thing you wanted to hear was ‘Buy more ads.’ [Now] the only thing you need to hear is ‘Be more generous.”
Your marketing should help customers understand how your product helps them.
“Generosity in the industrial setting means giving them stuff. But I’m talking about giving them kindness and attention and connection.”
Instead of shouting about the features in your product, help customers see how these features help them. This form of marketing can be done through webinars, product demos, videos, illustrative blog posts, etc.
3) Build extraordinary products
Instead of preaching everywhere about your product, Seth Godin advises entrepreneurs to build products worth shouting about. In this case, instead of you shouting about your product, your users will shout it out for you.
Great marketing won’t be enough to boost sales of your junk product. Expecting to launch a product that is sub-standard then hoping to make it big by purchasing advertising space on TV, Radio, websites and social media pages won’t cut it.
Innovation has never been more important for entrepreneurs before as it is today. There are companies doing almost everything you might think of. There is no way of coming up with a totally new idea today. If it is totally new, that should be a red alert sign. However, it doesn’t mean you stop innovating in any small way to improve the existing ideas.
“Almost all my books are about making a better product. Make something that some people decide is worth talking about. It’s not up to you. It’s not up to me. It’s up to them. So ask how we can make better art and raise the bar even more than we already have.”
As entrepreneurs, it is your responsibility to innovate, or you will be phased out long before you build roots in the market. We have seen companies like Kodak get phased out of the market because they failed to innovate, someone else in the name of Apple and Samsung came and totally decimated them.
4) Find your 10 users first
When Facebook launched, it was not looking to be the next big social network. Heck, it wasn’t even looking for a million users. Zuckerberg launched Facebook in Harvard, for Harvard. He went and found ten users who were lonely at the campus, and these guys loved the platform. So they told ten more people, and those people told another ten people.
It was a slow process of growth in the beginning before the company got to a million users. Seth believes Mark Zuckerberg didn’t set out to look for a billion users, and you shouldn’t do that as well.
The magic is finding 10 people who absolutely like the service or product you have built. “If you can find ten people and solve their problem in a way that’s so generous they can’t help but tell other people, then you’ll have twenty.”
There is an opportunity to build more remarkable companies if you find only 10 users who love what you have made before targeting the whole market. Word of mouth spreads fast. Luckily, it’s not just word of mouth that comes out of your 10 satisfied users, it is blog posts, videos, features on lists, attention on platforms like Product hunt.
This is the concept on which the Minimum Viable Product is based off. If you can build your MVP and find 10 users who really love it and are willing to pay for it, then you found your deal.
So before you go off looking for a thousand users, where are the ten?
5) Fail as many times as possible; it is okay
Seth Godin keeps a T-shirt that has a cartoon face wearing round glasses. In fact, that face is now his logo. But he didn’t set out to have a T-shirt that reminds him a lot about failure.
“Forty billion dollars is what this T-shirt is worth,” he once spoke of what he calls his “most treasured possession.”
As the internet was breaking out in the early 1990s and more people beginning to learn about the online world, Seth Godin was given a magazine assignment to write about “cool things” happening online. What he did is that he turned that assignment into an $80,000 book deal known as Best of the Net.
To sell the book he designed t-shirts including the one which he now keeps. Then he hired many people and six months later they had a 250-page book. They sold less than 2,000 copies.
Around the same time, two young guys called Jerry Yang and David Filo recognized and foresaw the power that the internet was going to have and thought, “the best way to tell people about the internet and what’s happening is to start a search engine.”
They started Yahoo.
Seth Godin knew what these guys knew. He had all the knowledge and resources they had. He had a deal worth $80k. He could have created Yahoo, but no, he created a book that sold nothing. Those two guys had created an $80 billion company and Seth figured he would have made even half of that had he been smarter. This explains why he values that T-shirt at $40 billion.
The point of this story is to show that every time you start something as an entrepreneur, there are chances that it will fail. If anything, chances of succeeding are much lower.
Does that mean you stop innovating because you will probably fail even when you have done everything right? Nope.
Failing is how problems are solved. Problem-solving requires you to test out concepts, fail, and then test again and again until something works.
When you are testing a solution you go to the market and show them what you have. They accept it and buy it or reject it and you fail. However, that market interaction gets you even closer to what the market needs.
You must be willing to fail or be wrong. Even more, you must admit it and learn from what the market is saying then bring a better solution.
Seth has gotten his fair share of failures including the $40 billion T-shirt. And he accepts that it was a remarkable moment of learning and awakening.
6) Act on your knowledge
Apparently, it seems there are so many people who lack guts. Seth Godin speaks at entrepreneur conferences that always fill out. Companies invite him to speak to their customers, shareholders, or employees more times than he can count. And yet, very few people act on that knowledge he dishes out.
“We don’t have a shortage of useful information or good advice. But what we have is a shortage of the guts to go out of our comfort zone to overturn the way we thought the world works…”
If you don’t take the chance to try something out, then you will never know what might have been. Or not.
It is the fear of failure and wanting to stay at the same comfortable level through life. But that is not the entrepreneur’s way. Entrepreneurs never chose comfort zones. They choose challenges. Have the guts to confront the problems you or the world faces. Don’t be crippled by fear.
To start to identify a problem, look around you. What are people complaining about? You need to ask yourself what knowledge do you have? How can this knowledge be leveraged to provide solutions?
7) Be generous with the long game
Whatever you have built is not the greatest thing in the world. So not everyone is going to rush to you to buy it after a month or two of launching. As an entrepreneur, you have to understand that the long game is how the biggest companies are built. You have to be absolutely generous with patience.
Look at the long-term. Where will your company be in a year, five years, a decade, two decades, etc?
There is no overnight success. Before Seth Godin became the household name in marketing, it took him 20 years. Patience is the biggest part of the game.
“The goal along the way is to be able to make just barely enough money today so you can be even more generous tomorrow. And my opportunity to cash in at every step has always been there. But I never have. My game is how can I be more trusted and more of service? The end. Not then I’ll get something later. Just the end.”
It takes hard work, time, and consistency to build great companies. These virtues have a compounding effect. We have seen this with the two biggest companies in the world today. Jeff Bezos had to wait for almost 3 decades for Amazon to be the trillion-dollar company it is today. Steve Jobs had to trust in the future of Apple before selling millions of iPhones in various stores around the world.
From your company’s public relations to courting journalists before they finally feature your startup’s story, it takes patience and long-term building as we have learnt from helping hundreds of companies pitch their startups through Pressfarm.
What do you do in the meantime as you wait for the success to finally get to you? Seth believes you continue to give day after day without zero expectations. In one of our posts about building good relationships with the media, we saw that the aspect of giving away story tips and important data can help you build relationships with some of the most difficult-to-get journalists in the world. It is a game of patience and giving before you finally land your startup in a media company that matters.
8) Don’t be afraid of niche ideas
Companies like Chobani Yogurt, Starbucks and Facebook might look like they were built for the general population and normal people now because they have many users but the truth is they weren’t.
“When we think about great brands of the last 15 years, none of them were built for normal people,” Godin once remarked.
As an entrepreneur, you should resist the urge to develop products for the masses. Because people are becoming weirder by the day.
In the past entrepreneurs would build sub-standard and low-quality products to reach as many people as possible. Today people want to be different. They do not want to be identified as normal. They want to be seen as unique. While entrepreneurs have run away from niches in the past and found success in general populations, today the companies making a killing are building products that target a unique set of people.
“The idea that you need to dumb, dumb, dumb it down so you can reach everyone is exactly the opposite of what it means to lead. For the first time in the history of the industry at scale, we can treat different people differently. Yet we refuse to do so, partly because of the creative arrogance of the ad business that says we have the right thing, the one thing, here it is, for everyone.”
There is a lot of fear to build products for niche markets because targeted marketing doesn’t always work out. So to get more marketing and make more sales, they get crippled by fear and build mass products that are seen to sell faster. Do not fall into the trap to develop average products just so you can sell more.
When Facebook started, it was only cool to be on MySpace for normal people. Facebook had a niche market at the beginning despite the fact they managed to disrupt the whole social media industry and take down MySpace in their wake.
9) Passion or Job? Do both
There are very few people around the world that make a living out of their passions. In fact, if everyone did their passions for a living, so many things wouldn’t work. And they would probably go broke because sometimes passion doesn’t sell that well.
Seth Godin knows this is a problem today as it has always been from centuries past. There are so many people stuck in their daily jobs because these jobs pay the bills. He likens this situation to an artist and a painter. Painters paint as a day job, and they can paint the same thing every day, get paid and go home. Artists don’t just want to paint portraits and landscapes every day for a living. They want to paint ideas, they want to put in more thought and come up with a piece of art that is Picasso-esque.
But such pieces of art don’t pay bills, sometimes they only start to sell more after your death.
What is the place of an entrepreneur struggling between following his idea for a startup and doing his day job which pays the bills? Seth says do both. Go to your day job, and then when you get some free time later work on your startup.
“Paying the bills is really important. If you don’t pay the bills, you don’t get to play the game. The first rule is making the bills smaller. Don’t live in Manhattan, live in New Jersey and don’t tell anyone.”
We have seen various startups whose founders have managed to pull this off. The founder of Jotform, Aytekin Tank managed to build one of the biggest online forms company used by millions of companies by bootstrapping and working his day job while doing Jotform stuff in the evenings or on weekends.
10) Understand What kind of leader you are
The pragmatist Lee Kuan Yeuw managed to lead Singapore from third world status to one of the richest countries today. He had the power to appeal to people’s sense of reason to want decency and excellent results.
Martin Luther King Jr, a visionary, managed to convince people in his time that there was a better way to do things, to do life, and treat one another. He had the power to make people see a better world worth fighting for and betting everything on. He managed to spur activism and put a foundation upon which people today celebrate human dignity and fight oppression.
As a leader of your company, what kind are you? Look at how you react to specific scenarios and places you find yourself in. Good leaders aren’t born like that, they learn; and so can you.
11) There is power in relationships
After Godin’s big failure with the T-shirt and book deal, he launched Yoyodyne. He later sold this small company to Yahoo for $30 million in stock. At the time, Yahoo’s stock was rising $2 per day. However, Yoyodyne didn’t just sell for millions of dollars, it also revolutionized internet marketing. Something that so many companies were struggling with at the time.
Every internet marketer was treating internet users like commodities for sale. Godin thought there must be a better way. He used his company to preach about the power of relationships in business. He taught clients how to build relationships with internet users. As clients profited from these genuine way of interaction, so did his company.
The company delivered anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who wanted them. He called this Permission marketing. And it worked.
Today he encourages companies to build relationships with customers if they want to thrive. It doesn’t just apply to startups, but to waiters and waitresses who want more tips at the restaurant, or small businesses and stores by the streets. Never squander customer relationships. Build them, and keep those relationships with commitment.