Thursday, November 10, 2005

All Marketers are Liars - authentic story-telling

In "Purple Cow", Seth Godin told us the 5P's of marketing like Product, Pricing, Promotion, etc. were not enough and a new P - the Purple Cow - was needed. He described the essence of the Purple Cow as being remarkable. In his new book, "All Marketers Are Liars", he focuses on an even more critical element of marketing - telling a good story.

He looks at ways to tell a good story well (Kiehl's Since 1851) and to tell it badly (telemarketers). Despite the title, it is an important book, because it is about telling and living the truth, having an authentic story, and about the power of marketing as a force for change, but only if people tell your story for you.

In a breezy manner, he covers the changes marketing is going through after the demise of television as a one-stop shop to push your message, and how many people still don't realize things have changed. He notes that most marketing fails and delineates what makes marketing work when it does. The steps people go through when they encounter successful marketing, the organizing principle of the book are:
  • Their worldview gets there before the marketing does

  • People only notice the different or new

  • First impressions start the story

  • Great marketers tell stories that are believable

  • Marketers with authenticity thrive


Marketers in most companies still believe they are in charge and consumers listen to them. Seth Godin points out that people tell their own stories and interpret whatever they hear from within their own worldviews. The mass market is long dead and the fractured worldview or weltanschauung we live in changes moment to moment. According to Seth, our worldview affects our attention, our bias and our vernacular or manner of expression. The story told by a savvy marketer much match all of these elements to be believable and accepted.

Numerous examples are provided to illustrate the key points, making for great reading. Best Buy's decision to prefer non-bargain hunters is analyzed as an appeal to two worldviews - angels and demons. Jimmy Carter's success is compared with the failure of Howard Dean, and most interestingly, George Carlin's euphemisms are used to show how the same unpleasant concepts can be painted in more pleasing terms before the door is slammed metaphorically in the hapless marketer's face.

Seth references other seminal books such as Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" about the transition from early adopters to the majority, and Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" about instantaneous decision-making with little data. He could delve deeper into aspects like the post-consumption consumer, but that would affect the general flow of his books, which serve as a springboard.

The power of the story to influence and affect is the oldest one in the book. As Neil Gaiman says in his "Anansi Boys",
Stories are like spiders, with all they long legs, and stories are like spiderwebs, which man gets himself all tangled up in but which look so pretty when you see them under a leaf in the morning dew, and in the elegant way that they connect to one another, each to each...
...
It's just a matter of how you tell the story. That's all"


In a chapter that serves as an interlude to the story in the book, Seth addresses the nature of stories that are fibs and those that are frauds. He demonstrates how fibs are true because they are authentic while frauds are inauthentic. As an illustratation he looks at the success of the Mercedes versus the Cadillac, and compares it to the fraudulent or inauthentic story told by Nestle about baby formula. He riffs on his anger when he finds deceitful marketers, and his pleasure that thanks to the power of open media and the Internet, frauds tend not to last too long nowadays.

He completes his perspective on storytelling as a force for marketing by focusing on authenticity and the need to show the remarkableness of the story. He takes the example of George Bush vs. Kerry in the great flip-flop debate to show how the storytelling made a greater difference than the truth.

A couple of 'bonuses' describe a few master storytellers, ranging from Fox News to bluenile.com and some advanced riffs on topics like how Google AdWords shakes things up. He concludes with some recommended reading that carries his story further than he could - books like Positioning, "Don't Think of an Elephant" and "In Pursuit of Wow".

In all, Seth covers much ground lightly, almost blog-like, yet leaves deep impressions on the power of the authentic and remarkable story.
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