Book Summary: This Is Marketing, by Seth Godin

Summary reading time: 16 min

Book reading time: 4h55

Score: 2/10

Book published in: 2018

Main Idea

Be so unique, different, and niched down that you won’t have any competition.


This is marketing is a book written by marketing guru Seth Godin. I found it disappointing.

The author presents his book as a complete picture of what marketing is, but failed completely on his promise.

This is Marketing isn’t a book.

It’s an obvious collection of blog posts assembled into a book.

And while some books have managed to achieve this in a coherent manner (like How to Market a Book), This is Marketing didn’t.

I even wondered if anyone edited the book before its publishing.

The first chapter starts with the statement that marketing is a company’s culture (hum…ok?).

This claim will never be heard of again in the book.

Godin engages with pretty much every concept related to marketing (branding, price, SEO, positioning, ads) and fails to deliver on each of them. None of what he writes is clear, specific, or valuable.

He uses case studies that he doesn’t explain (if you don’t read the news, this book will be hard for you) and claims he doesn’t back.

Some of the information remained interesting, but most of the content was a pain to read due to the disconnect and lack of logic.

I did learn one important thing though. This is Marketing was a Financial Times book of the year. As a result, I can no longer trust the FT’s book list.

As a result, no need to read this book, my summary will save you time, money, and a headache.


This is awkward…but…if you still want to buy the book…you can do so here 😉

Summary of This Is Marketing, by Seth Godin

The main question when you do work is “who can you help”.


  • Seeks more markets, customers, etc
  • Is driven by better (outcomes, service)
  • Creates culture
  • Is change
  • Changes the culture and the world
  • Is all of us

The best ideas aren’t instantly embraced by the market because of:

  • The noise
  • People don’t understand
  • Changing is risky

The market ultimately decides if what you made is worthy of consumption. The mere act of making isn’t enough – it needs to change somebody’s life.

How to know if you have a marketing problem:

  • You aren’t busy enough
  • Your ideas aren’t spreading
  • You don’t have a community
  • You can see ways to make things better

Chapter 1: Not Mass, Not Spam, Not Shameful

Effective marketing relies on empathy and service.

It is about making things better.

Marketing is helping someone solve a problem. It’s a chance to serve.

The magic of ads is a trap that keeps us from building a useful story.

In the past, the way to market was to buy ads. The world doesn’t work like that anymore.

Being discovered isn’t the first step, it has become the last one.

It’s easier to make products for the customer you seek to help than looking for customers to help with your product.

Chapter 2: The Marketer Learns to See

The time when we sold average products to average people is over.

Marketing in five steps

  1. Invent something worth making with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about.
  2. Build it in a way few people will greatly benefit from and care about
  3. Tell a story that matches the built-in narratives and dreams of your company
  4. Spread the word
  5. Show up consistantly to lead the change you want to make

Ideas that spread win.

Marketers’ job is to make change happen.

It starts with the way we do things and the type of things we do. Your strategy can change everything.

If you want to trigger change, start with culture. Get people in sync.

Culture doesn’t beat strategy – it is strategy.

Things marketers know

  1. Committed and creative people can change the world
  2. You cannot change everyone so you need to ask who you can change
  3. Change is best made with intent
  4. The stories humans tell themselves are true
  5. People can be grouped according to the stories they tell themselves
  6. What you say isn’t as important as what others say about you

Chapter 3: Marketing Changes People Through Stories, Connections, and Experiences

The author tells the story of how he went to sell $3 glasses to people that didn’t see in India. Only 1/3 of them bought, which was little. So he took all of the stocks off the table (to create loss aversion) and gave people the choice to buy the glasses on the spot, or lose them forever.

2/3 bought the glasses.

Marketing is telling the stories that others need to learn so that they take action (buy).

People don’t buy the drill, they don’t buy the whole, they buy the feelings they get once the shelf is placed.

They are not looking to buy what you make. They want what that thing will do for them.

The best way to communicate is through storytelling; creating connections (a group, a community); and experiences (customer service, public actions, etc).

Every organization is influenced by a driving force. Google is tech-driven, hedge-funds are money-driven.

Others are marketing-driven, which is a dead-end.

The best is to be market-driven. Listen to the market and give it what it wants.

Chapter 4: The Smallest Viable Market

What change are you trying to make?

If you are a marketer, you’re trying to change something. Your change is often your mission: “we want to make meat accessible to everyone”.

What promise are you making? A message is often a hidden promise. “If you buy what I sell, you will…”.

Who are you trying to change (who is your market)? Choose these people based on their dreams, desires, and aspirations.

As marketers, we begin with a worldview, and invite people with that worldview to join us.

Don’t pursue everyone. Everyone is average, you’d need to satisfy everyone and offend no one. Don’t do that.

Start instead in the minimum viable market. That market is the smallest number of people you need to make your efforts worth it.

Build the leanest and smallest viable version of your product, engage with your market, improve and repeat.

If you do a show in front of an audience that doesn’t speak your language, is your show bad? No. It’s just not for them. Make sure you get feedback from your audience, not someone else’s.

The simple marketing promise

Complete the sentences.

My product is for people who believe…………………………………………………………….

I will focus on people who want……………………………………………………………………….

I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get…………………………

How to build a winning product

  1. Start with empathy: don’t ask “what business can I build”. Ask instead “what would matter here?”
  2. Focus on the smallest viable market
  3. Match the worldview of the people being served. Tell them a story they want to hear, in a language they understand.
  4. Make it easy to spread.
  5. Earn and keep the attention and trust of your audience.
  6. Go deeper. Instead of looking for members for your work, look for work for your members.
  7. Create tension and relieve as people progress
  8. Show up often, with humility, and do what works

Chapter 5: In Search of Better

Everyone thinks he is right, everyone believes in things you don’t, and everyone wants things you don’t want.

We have no chance of selling them our “programs”. We should make a program tailored for them instead.

Everything we buy is a bargain. We bought it because we estimated it had more value than its price. People buy for them, not you. This is why you should have empathy for the narrative of the buyers you seek to serve.

How to make something better?

Better is not up to you, but to the buyer. Better is subjective. A Hermes Bag is more expensive than a Louis Vuitton bag, which is more expensive than a Zara bag. Does it mean Hermes is better?

It depends on the buyer.

Buyers choose the best products – for them.

Studies have shown that conspiracy theorists believed in illogical facts. They may believe Lady Di is still alive, while simultaneously believe she was murdered. It has also been shown that they are less interested to believe a conspiracy if everyone else believes it.

This shows that what they are truly after isn’t the conspiracy – it’s the feeling of uniqueness, of being different.

Marketers adapt to their audience. They are searching for what problems they have, what speech they can give them.

When people are paying attention to your ad, they are not doing so out of generosity. They are trading their time for something they find valuable in the ad.

Positioning as a service

In a world where choice is abundant and time is scarce, how do we choose?

Most often, we don’t.

So marketers should begin with a specific problem to solve from a tiny audience. This means going to the extreme. Finding an edge.

Standing for something.

How to do so?

Draw an XY graph. Choose two variables people care about and write them for each axis.

Plot your competitors on the graph.

Possible variations:

  • Speed
  • Price
  • Performance
  • Ingredients
  • Purity
  • Sustainability
  • Obviousness
  • Maintenance costs
  • Safety
  • Edginess
  • Distribution
  • Network effect
  • Imminence
  • Visibility
  • Trendiness
  • Privacy
  • Professionalism
  • Difficulty
  • Elitism
  • Danger
  • Experimental
  • Limited
  • Incomplete

The key is to choose two variables that will give an edge to your product.

Don’t battle people. Whatever ridiculous stories they tell themselves, take them seriously.

Accept that they embraced who they are. Dance with them so you can connect with them.

Don’t change their story. Add yours to theirs.

Chapter 6: Beyond Commodities

Problem first

Marketers don’t start with a solution. They begin with a problem that a group they want to serve has.

Marketers want to make a difference, to make things better.

In the past, services and products were of low quality. Today, they are of high quality. Everyone is of high quality. If you are not good at what you do, marketing won’t help you.

Not only quality has become mandatory – but it is no longer sufficient.

The commodity suck out

If you make something others make, you’re f*cked.

Today, your customers know more about the competition than you do.

The only way to avoid that fate is to be the only one to do what you do.

When you know what you stand for, you don’t need to compete.

If you merely seek to fill a hole in the market, you’ll constantly be looking at the competition.

You need to find, build, and earn your story so that your business is based on possibilities, not scarcity.

Where do you want to take your audience?

Here are 10 things stories achieve.

  • 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
  • Deepend 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 resopond to cutomers instead of react to the marketplace
  • Attract customers who want to support businesses that reflect or represent their values
  • Build brand loylaty and give customers a story to tell
  • Attract the kind of like-minded employees
  • Help us to stay motivated and continue to do work we’re proud of

Your story is a hook

Once you claim a story that takes people from A to B, you’re on the hook.

Great marketing is saying “I see a better alternative; come with me”.

Chapter 7: The Canvas of Dreams and Desires

People (crowds) aren’t good at inventing new things. Part of the reason is they are aware of their wants but they suck at inventing new ways to satisfy them.

Innovative marketers invent new solutions that work with old emotions

While we are all different, we all want the same things.

  • Adventure
  • Affection
  • Avoiding new things
  • Belonging
  • Community
  • Control
  • Creativity
  • Delight
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of movement
  • Friendship
  • Good looks
  • Health
  • Learning new things
  • Luxury
  • Nostalgia
  • Obedience
  • Participation
  • Peace of mind
  • Physical activity
  • Power
  • Reassurance
  • Reliability
  • Respect
  • Revenge
  • Romance
  • Safety
  • Security
  • Sex
  • Strength
  • Sympathy
  • Tension

This means that marketers don’t have that many tools to build emotions with. In anyways, these are what you should begin with.

Nobody needs your product

They might want it, but that’s it. And if they do want it, they will buy it for the feelings, not for the features.

When someone doesn’t act as expected, look at what they’re fearing.

Chapter 8: Seeking the Smallest Viable Market

The virtuous cycle and network effects

Good customers bring you more customers. Bad customers don’t.

Get on a path where you can get traction for your product.

A path that leads you to your 1000 true fans, the people that will buy pretty much everything you sell them.

Critics are right and wrong

A critic that says they don’t like your product is right. But they’re wrong if they say that no one will.

12% of Harry Potter’s book reviews are 1-star reviews.

All best-selling books have haters and lovers. None of them are useful to improve the product, since one is saying it can’t be improved, while the second says it doesn’t need to.

Chapter 9: People Like Us Do Things Like This

As we have seen, marketing exists to make a change. And marketers always overestimate their capacity to make a change because they act in accordance with their internal narratives.

When people take action (or not), they do it to reinforce their internal narratives.

So, where does the narrative come from, and how do you change it?

Most people change their behavior to fit in or to be perceived in a certain way. The only question they ask is “do people like me do that?”

If yes, they do it too. If not, they don’t.

As a marketer, you need to define that group of people.

Here’s how:

  1. Map and understand the worldview of the culture you seek to change
  2. Focus only on them. Build a product and story only for them.

Chapter 10: Trust and Tension Create Forward Motion

Pattern match and pattern interrupted

Proposing a new TV show on Thursday at 21h is a pattern match. People watch TV on Thursday at 21h, whatever that is.

But getting you to turn off your TV and read a book instead is a pattern interrupted, and obviously, it is much harder.

When people do new things in life, many patterns are interrupted as they have to get used to new habits and actions (buying a house, having a baby, etc). Hence, getting them to buy new stuff is easier.

A way to interrupt a pattern is to create tension – that is, asking straight out. If a professor asks a question, chances are no one will answer. If a professor asks a question to one student specifically, he will answer it.

Chapter 11: Status Dominance, And Affiliation

Status decides why a restaurant does better than another one.

It decides who’s the wolf that eats first in the pack.

For humans, status exists in dating, in the boardroom, etc.

The desire to change it or protect it drives everything we do.

Not everyone wants to make their status higher. Some people actually want to make their status lower.

Marketers must understand that some want to change their status (go up or down) and others just want to protect it.

6 things about status

  1. Status is always relative. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the scale. What matters is whether the people around you have a higher or a lower status.
  2. Status is in the eyes of the beholder.
  3. Status only matters when it matters to other people.
  4. Status has inertia. We’re more likely to work to keep it than to work to change it.
  5. Status is learned
  6. Shame is the status killer

Status is difficult to work with in marketing because you don’t know if the appearing status of someone is also the status they believe they have.

When it comes to status, you have four types of people in four types of situations.

There are two ways to measure status.

Affiliation, and domination.

Tom Hanks is someone that has status through affiliation. He’s part of the group and everyone likes him.

Don Corleone has status through domination.

Most of the status in our society is built on affiliation.

Chapter 12: A Better Business Plan

Here’s a better business plan, with five sections.

  • Truth: what is the market, the competitors, the technology, who failed in the past, etc.
  • Assertions: how you’re going to change things.
  • Alternatives: what will you do if your assertions are wrong?
  • People: self-explanatory
  • Money: how much you need, how you will spend it, how much you will make

By now, you should see the shift. This book isn’t about “how can I get more customers”, but “how can I make an impact?”

Once you know that, the rest becomes much easier.

Chapter 13: Semiotics, Symbols, and Vernacular

All symbols more or less look the same because their purpose is to remind you of something else – association.

The difference between a pro and an amateur is that the amateur makes something he likes. The pro makes something everyone likes.

Chapter 14: Treat Different People Differently

When we take a group of 100 people, about 70 will be happy to do like everyone else, 26 will be further from the average, and 4 will be at the extreme.

As a marketer, you should focus on the 14 people that make the early adopters.

These are the people that want what you have.

Chapter 15: Reaching The Right People

You do so with ads. If the ad works, good, you can scale it. If it doesn’t, then you need to find another one.

There are two types of marketing.

Direct marketing: you put an ad on Facebook targeted at your customers to get them to buy now.

Brand marketing: you sponsor a music festival hoping the next time they go into a club and hear the music, they buy your drink (or whatever else).

Brand marketing (Coca-Cola) deals with culture and society. You cannot directly measure the impact, and you have to be patient.

Direct marketing deals with people that want to buy your product. You can measure the impact.

Don’t change your ad too often. Familiarity breeds trust, and trust breeds purchase. You need to run the same ad over and over again until customers know it enough that it feels familiar.

Chapter 16: Price Is a Story

Pricing is a marketing tool, not a mere way to get money

Pricing changes your marketing and marketing changes your pricing.

Cheap is another way to say scared. If you engage in a price battle, you have a quality problem. When you are the cheapest, you’re promising the same as the competition….but cheaper.

As such, low price is the last refuge of a marketer who has run out of generous ideas.

The logical thing would be that expensive purchases would require trust before being made.

The truth is the opposite. The fact that the transaction is risky makes us invent a safety feeling so we feel good about it and go ahead with the purchase.

As a result, lowering your price doesn’t make you more trusted. It does the opposite.

Chapter 17: Permission and Remarkability in a Virtuous Cycle

Permission marketing is the idea to craft a valuable message for a consumer in need of what we sell. It focuses on a target market, and ignores the rest.

Getting permission from a customer means getting the permission to monopolize their attention. Attention is a gift. When someone subscribes to your newsletter, they are giving you permission to get their attention.

That permission is earned.

Also, you need to own that permission asset. When you have a Facebook page, you don’t own it. Facebook does, and they will charge you to reach your own followers.

So, how do you get permission?

You go talk to your first 1000 customers and get it from them.

Then, you create a valuable project, something people are excited about, something they will tell their friends.

Too often, impatient marketers use stunts to engineer virality. They make it offensive, juvenile, or urgent, for the mere sake to be talked about.

Real value is making things better for others, not for yourself.

Chapter 18: Trust Is as Scarce as Attention

Trust is hard to find online due to the number of people that can’t be trusted.

As a consequence, marketers find themselves assigned to three different groups.

  • Ignored
  • Sneaking around
  • Trusted

The best way to earn trust is through action. We remember what you did long after we remember what you said.

Marketers spend time looking for what to say. But they really should look at what to do.

Chapter 19: The Funnel

At the top of a funnel stands attention.

In the end, committed and loyal customers.

In between, people leak out.

How to fix your funnel

  1. Make sure the right people fall into it
  2. Make sure your deliver on your promise
  3. Remove steps so they make fewer decisions
  4. Reinforce the dreams and improve the fears of those who stay
  5. Use tension to create forward motion
  6. Give a megaphone to those in the funnel so they can scream “people like us do thinks like this”

When you build a funnel, the most difficult thing to figure out is the lifetime value of a customer.

Make sure that the value is higher than the cost of the funnel and you are good to go.

Half of all the books Amazon sells aren’t bestsellers. This is the case for every platform. While they make a lot of money selling few units from a lot of different people, the people selling them can’t make any money themselves.

There’s only one way to get out of this, and that is becoming a sensation. It’s not easy though. But it’s possible. You need to:

  1. Deliver extraordinary value
  2. Connect to your customers and make them understand you belong to the top

To do so, you need to reach the early adopters. The only problem is that all of the early adopters in the world aren’t enough to make your company profitable.

You need to reach the masses, except that the masses are the masses for a reason. They don’t want to change, and they don’t want your product.

So, how do you do it?

You bridge the masses to the early adopters.

Most mass products became so because they worked better when everyone had them.

While you don’t talk about your favorite chocolate brand, you do talk about your TikTok account because you have everything to gain to get people to follow you.

Network effect depends on the answer to these questions:

  1. What will I tell my friends about this product?
  2. Why?

Few brands ever completely crosse the bridge.

Starbucks, for example, didn’t. They remain constrained to their market.

One of the few companies that did it is Facebook, because the network effect was sooooo powerful that…everyone crossed their bridge.

Chapter 20: Organizing and Leading a Tribe

You need to build a narrative in three steps.

  1. The story of self: how you became who you are, how you became like us.
  2. The story of us: the kernel of the tribe. Why are we alike, why should we care?
  3. The story of now: it enlists the tribe in your journey

The 13 rules for radicals from Saul Alinsky to defeat political opponents in zero-sum games (elections).

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
  3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
  8. “Keep the pressure on.”
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.”
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

However, this only worsens public discourse.

Let’s reverse the rules.

  1. “Put people to work. It’s even more effective than money.”
  2. “Challenge your people to explore, to learn, and to get comfortable with uncertainty.”
  3. “Find ways to help others on the path find firm footing.”
  4. “Help others write rules that allow them to achieve their goals.”
  5. “Treat the others the way you’d want to be treated.”
  6. “Don’t criticize for fun. Do it when it helps educate, even if it’s not entertaining.”
  7. “Stick with your tactics long after everyone else is bored with them. Only stop when they stop working.”
  8. “It’s okay to let the pressure cease now and then. People will pay attention to you and the change you seek when they are unable to consistently ignore it.”
  9. “Don’t make threats. Do or don’t do.”
  10. “Build a team with the capacity and the patience to do the work that needs doing.”
  11. “If you bring your positive ideas to the fore, again and again, you’ll raise the bar for everyone else.”
  12. “Solve your own problems before you spend a lot of time finding problems for the others.”
  13. “Celebrate your people, free them to do even more, make it about the cohort, and invite everyone along. Disagree with institutions, not with people.”

Chapter 21: Case Studies

How do I get an agent?

This question for actors and screenwriters, is the wrong one.

The correct one is “how do I do work that is so good that agents want to represent me?”

Chapter 22: Marketing Works, Now It’s Your Turn

Don’t make it perfect. Make it better.

Make it good enough that it sells, then improve it.

Ask for help.

Chapter 23: Marketing to the Most Important Person

Build something of value, and if nobody wants it, blow it up and do it again.

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  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:May 13, 2022