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THIS ISN’T marketing

I have to confess I don’t always make it the whole way through marketing books.

If I scan along the shelf above my computer, I can see a number where the creases in the spine stop before halfway.

On the bedside table are a few more with bookmarks at various points. Top of that pile currently is ‘This Is Marketing’ by Seth Godin. I’m on page 160 and I’ve been there for a while.

There are some writers where you soon realise their books contain important ideas - Byron Sharp, Richard Shotton, Paul Feldwick, Phil Barden. Going back a bit, David Aaker, Ted Levitt, Ries & Trout. Somehow you feel obliged to get through their tomes.

There are other writers whose books I find it easy to finish. Dave Trott, Rory Sutherland, Les Binet & Sarah Carter, Bob Hoffman. It’s the style as much as the content. Some people are just a joy to read.

It’s also often the format. My favourite kind of marketing book is now a collection of blogs. There’s invariably an underlying theme to all good bloggers, which it’s good to have slowly revealed rather than forced down your throat. It’s also perfect for that five minute read at night before your eyelids come crashing down.

But when the book is essentially one theory, that’s when I struggle. You kind of wish they’d written a blog.

The problem is the lack of narrative drive. An example for me would be ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman. Now that it is an important book. Nobel Prize winner. International bestseller. “A lifetime’s worth of wisdom” on the cover.

But it’s 407 pages and the type is tiny. If you do make it to the end without going blind, the appendices are in even smaller type. It’s like Kahneman wanted to make it as tough a read as possible. Ironic for a book that’s about saving mental effort.

Compare this to Michael Lewis’s book ‘The Undoing Project’ about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, their friendship and partnership. That’s a weekend read and a great one at that.

Sometimes, of course, you just fall out with the writer. That definitely happened to me with ‘How Brands Grow Part 2’ by Byron Sharp and Jenni Romaniuk.

Part 1 was a good, if challenging, read. There were strong central arguments for focusing on penetration and availability. The tone is too hectoring for me but that’s Sharp’s style. ‘I’m right, you’re wrong - and probably stupid too’.

Part 2 was more of the same. But when it got to the point of saying brand positioning is your advertised messages and what brands need isn’t a positioning, it’s a network of “Category Entry Points” I was out of there. All brands need a position. Without one, you are lost.

So coming back to Seth Godin and my struggle with his latest book.

Maybe I know his writing too well. Godin is a prolific blogger on marketing. He sends out blogs every day, pretty much 365 days a year. I read the majority of them. Maybe I’ve overdosed.

Or maybe it’s that title, ‘This Is Marketing’. I don’t think I bought the book expecting the answer, more a point of view. But I could do without the evangelical tone.

Maybe it’s the style. Too much theory, not enough practice. Where there are examples it’s the likes of online magic shops or Silicon Valley entrepreneurs or boutique ice cream parlours. And Patagonia, of course.

Maybe it’s his attitude to needs and wants. This should be where we really connected. Early on he argues that people want different things emotionally. He lists 32 need states. He also says this is where you should start, not with “your machines, your inventory, or your tactics”. Big tick.

But then he goes and spoils it all with a chapter called Status, Dominance and Affiliation. His argument is that the Status dynamic is always at work and there are two ways of “measuring” it, Dominance vs. Affiliation. ‘I’m better than you’ vs. ‘I’m the same as you’.

Well, sorry, but that’s a Need Map with only one axis and a fixed view on the central need. It’s not a map, it’s a ruler.

Put it another way, it’s a one-size-fits-all view on how to approach marketing. That’s why his recurring theme in the book is “people like us do things like this”.

Maybe that’s why I’m stuck. Need Maps all have different central needs. There’s a personality axis as well as social one.

And marketing isn’t always about the minimum viable audience or fully engaging people or getting them to spread the word or creating culture.

It is always about empathy but that’s not the same as Affiliation. Affiliation is a need that people in your category may or may not have. Empathy is the ability to see the world as your target sees it.

So I get it. Seth Godin believes in community-based marketing.

That’s his point. It could have been a tweet.

Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough.

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