Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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The lies marketers tell

Business writer states the obvious for you

By Amy Diaz

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World, by Seth Godin, Do You Zoom, Inc., 2005, 186 pages.

I’d sum up the experience of reading a Seth Godin book this way: wow… what?

The “wow” comes with the book’s premise (usually one that you can state in about a sentence) and the “what” comes after, when you’ve closed the book and have the sense that the only thing you’ve successfully learned about marketing is that Godin really knows how to market his own stuff.

Godin, best known for Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable and Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends and Friends Into Strangers, is the business equivalent of a Danielle Steel or John Grisham. His books are easy and fun to read, hold your attention and contain only one main idea that you must keep in your head. Far from being how-to guides to good marketing, these books are like a lunch with a slightly nutty, fairly smart senior executive. Most of his thinking more or less boils down to the thought that the marketing of anything — a cable network, a bottle of water, soap — comes from the product itself. It must be extraordinary (a purple cow) and be easy for people to show or talk about to friends. And, in All Marketers Are Liars, he adds that the product should have a good, compelling story to go with it.

What makes Godin’s books interesting even to those who aren’t directly involved in marketing is that they lean very heavily on the kind of pop psychology that can be applied to anyone selling anything — whether you’re a person selling yourself to a potential employer or to a date, whether you want to increase the traffic on your website or increase the willingness of your coworkers to listen to and trust your ideas. They also, however, touch on the hows and whys of campaigns for JetBlue, Fox News and Fiji water so that you get what appears to be practical business advice and a backstage peek at how the products you buy became the products you buy.

Godin’s advice is both commonsense and sort of absurd — yes, being better than everybody else is helpful to selling a product. But what if you’re not better and it’s still your job to sell it? How do you reach the employers/customers/potential boyfriends you want to reach if what you’re working with isn’t as good? In this book, Godin seems to suggest that you tell a really good “authentic” story about it. “Authentic” being different from “true” in the sense that an authentic story leaves out some of the messy, complicated, uninteresting details that make up the truth. An authentic story is simple and compelling and fits the world view of the person or people to whom you are telling your story.

Some people might call this “glossing over important facts” or “lying.” Some people might call this “putting the best face on things.” Without picking ethical sides, I prefer to call this idea “obvious.”

And ultimately, “obvious” describes what’s best and worst about most Godin books since Purple Cow. His ideas are innovative in how simple and uninnovative they are. What makes them more or less worth $24 per book is that they point out things you already knew in a simple and uncluttered way. His books, All Marketers Are Liars included, won’t make you a business star. But they may tidy up your thinking in a way that lets your own good ideas become clear and easier to carry out.

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