Summary of This Is Marketing by Seth Godin

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Summary: 16 min

Book reading time: 4h55

Score: 2/10

Book published in: 2018

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  • Marketers tell stories.

Table of Contents

What This Is Marketing Talks About

This Is Marketing is a book written by marketing guru Seth Godin. It’s a summary of Godin’s marketing principles and tips. It advises companies and freelancers to be so unique, different, and niched down that they won’t have any competition. I learned that the best way to market something is to seek who you can help.

This book was disappointing, to say the least.

The author presents it as a complete picture of what marketing is, but it’s not because 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 stuff he doesn’t back with data or sources.

Some of the information was 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 which means I can no longer trust the FT’s book list.

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


Do not buy the book 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 consistently 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 believing 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 sucks 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 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
  • 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”.

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