Seth Godin's rules for marketing in the new economy

Are you invisible or remarkable? That’s the question that Seth Godin believes that marketers should ask themselves in the new economy, and there are 3 simple reasons why:

  1. All media is now optional – no one is going to look at your tweet or open your junk mail unless they want to.
  2. The mass market is no longer important – the edges are what’s most important.
  3. The only work that matters is work that matters – just because it’s important to you, it doesn’t mean that it’s important to your audience. Focus on the latter and not the former.

Some of what’s driving the paradigm shift are well documented. It’s a cluttered world and any audience we might want to target is buried today in an avalanche of messages. There’s channel explosion – in the new economy there aren’t just 3 TV networks, one mailbox and one telephone per house anymore. The remote control - it’s not just for TV anymore. Customers finally have the remote control, they know how to use it – and they’re not afraid to use it.

Connections create value

The rules for marketing have changed – mass marketing is gone and we’re seeing the end of the industrial era, when the focus of business was once on standardizing production, achieving economies of scale, using interchangeable parts (and people) and serving the middle of the bell curve (or aiming for the average).

We’re now transitioning into what he calls “the connection economy” in which value is created by the connections we make and not by industrialism.

Undo your ideas of how the world works

His view is that in the industrial economy, we were programmed and trained to think that what we do is follow instructions – like the sardines and anchovies at the aquarium. That’s a fallacy when you consider what happens outside the work or school environment – like at a busy train station. At New York’s crowded Grand Central Station, everyone quickly finds their way throughout the terminal without anybody hollering instructions or leading big groups of people around.

Rethink what it means to be a marketer

In the new economy, aiming for average is not enough to succeed. Things that used to work, like a direct response campaign with a “good” 1% response rate, are going away. Whole industries have been transformed in a matter of years – music, travel, book publishing, advertising and the list goes on. His call to action is that marketers need to rethink what it means to be a marketer and consider the opportunity in today’s digital world without being constrained by your own concept of “what you are good at.”

How the new economy works: Seth believes the new economy of connections has four key conditions:

  • Coordination – Someone needs to arrange to arrange the connections so they are meaningful.
  • Trust – When you are at work and everyone is going in the same direction, that enables you to find ways to connect and create value.
  • Permission – When you offer ideas to people who want you to bring them, that’s a resource. Without that permission, it’s an annoyance. What’s new and significant is that the permission needs to be earned and not asked for.
  • The exchange of ideas – you will learn more from people at a conference than from any random person you might otherwise meet because you’re deliberately exchanging ideas. It’s the confluence of time, place and purpose that gives significance to that exchange of ideas.

Humanity fuels the new economy

Technology has enabled the transition to the new economy, but connections in the new economy are fueled by a focus on two specific aspects of humanity – generosity and art.

  • Generosity is critical because no one wants to connect to the selfish person, or to the people that are only taking. Think always in terms of offering something of value to other people and they will willingly connect to you.
  • Art matters because the system is inherently boring – unremarkable. Art is about a human being doing something for the first time – something that connects. It’s not hotel rooms that are simply dark & quiet, or products that are geared to the mass market. People want things that are interesting – pretty – different. They’re looking for the remarkable, or something worthy of a remark.

Rules for marketing in a new economy

Building trust and connections are the hard (and necessary) part of marketing today. We’ve reached a point in our evolution where differentiation matters more than ever because mass marketing no longer cuts it. When we’ve standardized everything to the point that the main differentiator is price, then it’s a race to the bottom. And in that case, the biggest risk is that you just might win. So, in the new economy, here’s what it takes for marketers to be successful:

  • Create the extraordinary. Or be extraordinary and don’t focus on the average. People want things that are alive and real so try to give it to them. Key personal qualities for marketers that help to create the extraordinary are grit, courage, risk taking and all of it together. Today’s marketers need chutzpah. On a related note, you want to find leaders that can help achieve the extraordinary? Find ways to promote your envelope pushers that can lead the organization to the extraordinary, and don’t always make the safe choice of the competent performer the crowd likes.
  • Take Risks. We need marketers that don’t ask for permission. We need people that are willing to risk failing (sometimes often) to drive innovation. Just don’t make the same mistakes twice. Progress doesn’t happen by sticking to best practices – it happens when you create new practices and then better practices emerge.
  • Do what matters. Don’t ask if you’re going to succeed, ask if you’re going to matter because that’s what’s important. And don’t ever forget that it’s your customer that decides what matters – not you. It’s never been more risky to ignore the outliers, because they may be the ones that point the way to a new and better direction. What that means in the new world of big data - it’s never been more important to use marketing analytics so you don’t lose track of the outliers. 

These thoughts were shared by Seth Godin in his keynote address at Integrated Marketing Week in New York City, organized by The DMA and eConsultancy.

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