All Marketers Are Liars | How Marketing Really Works

All Marketers Are Liars - Seth Godin

Summary of “All Marketers Are Liars”: All marketers tell stories…and these stories consumers want to hear: in fact, marketers are storytellers, and we consumers constantly lie to ourselves – even telling ourselves many stories about the things we buy; so, to get your target market to discover and buy your product, you must tell them an authentic, consistent, believable story that aligns with how they see the world.

By Seth Godin, 2007, 167 pages.

Note: Some passages are from Eric Lavollé, CEO of a marketing company, and do not appear in the original edition.

Review and summary of “All Marketers Are Liars”:

This is the first book by marketing guru Seth Godin that I have read.

Seth Godin begins by telling us that long before marketing, people told each other stories. They observed what went on around them and invented stories. Not understanding lightning, they imagined a god perched in the clouds that sent it. Not understanding the sun, they imagined he was also a god, pulled by a wagon in the sky. And not understanding anything, they invented a lot of gods, stories and myths to explain the things they did not understand.

Stories provide answers and help to understand more precisely the world. They help to spread ideas. Marketers didn’t invent the art of storytelling, they perfected it.

You’re a liar.

So am I. We all are. We tell stories to have answers to the questions we ask ourselves, to process the information flowing in our minds every day. Stories make life easier for us. We tell stories just about everything: products, services, our friends, people who work, those who don’t, etc. They may not be true, but it doesn’t matter because we still choose to believe them because they help us organize our lives. Too bad if we don’t tell the whole truth, what matters is that our lies are useful and that we embrace them.

Marketers are liars too, but special kinds of liars. They lie because consumers demand it. They tell stories that consumers accept – or not – to believe.

Here is a successful marketing story.

Georg is a tenth-generation glassblower. His company makes wine glasses, as well as other alcoholic glasses. At Georg Riedel’s company, everyone believes passionately that there is a distinct and ideal shape of glass for every drink. The bouquet and taste of a wine depends on the shape of the glass in which it is served.

A story that explains all this in detail is told.

Wine Spectator ‘s executive editor writes: “Everyone who ventures into a Gerog Ridiel wine tasting starts as a skeptic. I did.”

However, this skepticism doesn’t last very long. Robert Parker Jr, a renowned wine expert in the United States, says “the effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.”

These two people, and hundreds of other wine luminaries have become lovers of these glasses, and of course, thousands of fine wine enthusiasts have followed suit.

Prominent wine experts were asked to conduct tests by drinking the same wine in a standard glass and in a Riedel glass. They are almost unanimous: Riedel glasses offer an infinitely superior sensory experience.

Great, isn’t it? A 5,20 € or 200 € bottle of wine can be radically improved with just a glass.

Except that the prominent wine experts are only unanimous when they perform their tests out in the open. When it’s made impossible to know the shape of the glass, guess what: the experts don’t notice any difference. A 1 € glass and a 20 € glass have exactly the same effect on the wine, i.e., none.

What are we to think of these results? That the wine experts are crooks or incompetent people? No, since they are able to blindly determine that a wine has the same taste, regardless of the glass. The bottom line is that they find the wine tastes better because they believe it should. Isn’t taste something subjective? If you think pancakes are better at the local coffee shop, they are. Because you said so.

Riedel earns millions of dollars each year with their glasses. They’re sold to intelligent wine lovers, who today enjoy their wine with more pleasure than before.

Marketing makes wine taste better. What is initially a lie becomes a truth because consumers believe in the story they are told.

In the form of an expensive wine glass, marketing has more effect on the taste of wine than oak barrels, corks and rain in June. Georg Riedel makes your wine taste better by telling you a story.

Marketing, you know?

According to Seth Godin, marketing is the spread of ideas, and the spread of ideas is undoubtedly the most important output of our civilization. Marketing is for anyone who is concerned about the future of their company or their association, the withering of their church, or the future of the planet. Whatever your budget – and even if you don’t have one – marketing matters to you the moment you want to spread ideas. We are all potential marketers.

However, most marketing initiatives fail, but those who succeed follow 5 steps, which are then detailed in All marketers are liars:

  1. Worldview and consumer frames pre-date marketing. The consumer notices and understands events according to his worldview. When a story coincides with his worldview, he is more inclined to believe it.
  2. Consumers only notice what’s changing and guess the rest.
  3. The first impression starts the story. The consumer quickly forms a definitive judgment about the experience he is having.
  4. Good marketers tell stories that we believe. The marketer tells a story about the elements that the consumer notices. The story changes the way in which the consumer perceives the product or service and makes him tell himself a lie. Consumers predict what will happen next. They rationalize everything that doesn’t match their prediction.
  5. Authentic marketers succeed. Authenticity is the main factor that determines whether the story will survive consumer scrutiny and if it will spread. Marketing is sometimes so powerful that it actually changes the worldview of the person experiencing it, but no marketing initiative can succeed if it doesn’t initially find an audience predisposed to believing the story being told.

Previously, during the heyday of television, it was enough to buy airtime for advertising that got a huge response rate. Companies that made enough money to pay for a TV spot earned even more money. Then television became part of everyday life, people began to be wary of advertisements and all that collapsed. And marketing has had to develop more powerful and subtle techniques.

In the past, it was the production that was the most important, before the invention of the product and marketing. Making good products at good prices and delivering them on time – that was the motto.

Now, only two factors matter:

  1. Invent a product that is worth talking about
  2. Tell a story about the invented product

Create brilliant stories: that’s the new motto.

Step 1: Worldview and consumer frames pre-date marketing

We all want the same thing: to live in safety, to be in good health, to be successful and to be loved, respected, happy and fit. We want to have enough money to buy what we want, and we all want to have friends, have fun and live in a pollution-free world.

Although we agree on the destination to reach, there are many different paths to take to get there, paths that are in limitless variety, so much so that no marketer can predict in advance if an advertising message will have good results or if a new product will be successful.

This variety is explained by the different worldviews that consumers hold. Because we don’t actually want the same thing. Everyone has a set of beliefs, values and biases that shape their worldview, which is the lenses that distort reality, and which we use to decide whether or not to believe a story. To each their worldview. Two people can have the same data and make totally different decisions.

Each story is part of a frame. Frames are the reference systems, representations and connotations of a story that leverage the worldview that the consumer already has.

Note: The frame concept is also discussed and developed in an extremely clear and striking way in Real World Seduction.

Thus, the frame hangs the story onto the consumer’s existing worldview. Furthermore, there’s no point in changing the worldview of the consumer: most of the time, like you and me, the consumer hates being shown that he’s wrong and that he must change his mind. This requires resources in time and money that most of us do not have. It is better to target a population group that has the same worldview and to frame our story in terms of that worldview.

To have a better understanding, here is an example:

The American chain, Krispy Kreme, which owns a chain of donut shops, framed its speech with the Hot Donuts formula. The word hot refers to a notion of sensuality and decadence. By associating this term with the sensations that donuts arouse in some people, Krispy Kreme exploited a pre-existing worldview in the consumer (donuts = sensual = hot = love). It didn’t work on everyone, but the company did very well until the day when the consumer’s worldview changed (donuts = carbohydrates = obesity). Today, Krispy Kreme is losing money and closing its factories because a worldview has changed.

Marketing succeeds when people with similar worldviews gather in sufficient numbers that allow marketers to reach them cost-effectively. It may be that a marketer is lucky and talented enough to change a consumer worldview, as Steve Jobs did with the Macintosh, then the iPod, but it’s the exception to the rule.

Each group of people sharing the same worldview represents a market towards which we can use a particular story. There are thousands, some already exploited and others not. The opportunity for us is to frame our story in a way that attracts the audience who shares that view and then act accordingly.

The mass market is dead. There are only groups of individuals, millions of moving groups – a worldview isn’t forever- gathered around a common worldview. Every individual can have thousands of coexisting worldviews that will be used to match our story.

For example, do you agree with the following statements?

  • New technologies can improve my life.
  • If I were more beautiful, I would have more success.
  • If this medication is prescribed by a doctor, it’s safe.
  • Let’s have fun!
  • I like opera.
  • Don’t tell me shallow stories about consumption, consumerism and all that. Talk to me about deep values, quality, and life.

Whatever their relation to reality, these statements can be easily accepted or rejected depending on the individual. Add thousands of statements of this type and you will have defined the biases of an average consumer.

Each group wants to hear stories that validate their worldview. Each group sees itself near the center and not on the fringe of society, and very much wants to be catered to. Last year, Baby Estein, a division of Disney, earned more than $150 million by selling educational videos for newborns and infants under two years old. Of course, these virtually useless products (there is even a scientific study indicating that these products harm children’s language development) were much less intended for children than for mothers wanting to hear a story consistent with their worldview. They bought the story and shared the lie they believed in with everyone around them.

Gradually, a product can escape its first circle and go beyond the original group, because the group will recommend the product to friends and family (people who don’t necessarily have the same worldview, but who may be interested by the product).

It doesn’t work all the time, but even a small group can take your story and make it an epic, which can turn a niche market into a cult, a movement, a trend and finally a mass market.

The power of frames in “All Marketers Are Liars“:

While it is essential to target the right worldview, the real magic only works when you use a frame. The frame makes it possible to present an idea so that it embraces the consumer’s worldview, not fight it. If you are unable to hang your idea onto a worldview, it will be ignored. Politicians are masters in the art of using frames: one group will say that they are “fanatical fundamentalists” and another group will say, “fervent believers”. By doing so they focus on the worldview of the audience they are addressing.

The story that a consumer tells himself about a new product and service is therefore influenced by the worldview he has before becoming aware of it. This influences three factors:

1 – Attention

This is the most valuable element. Consumers are indifferent to anything that doesn’t grab their attention. They have little time at their disposal and want to make good use of it.

Marketers can no longer force people to pay attention. There can be no guarantee that a consumer will listen to what you have to say.

2 – Bias

A few years ago, a friend of Seth Godin, Lisa, wrote a bestseller. Reviews of her book published on Amazon were surprising: half of the readers awarded 5 stars to the book, claiming that it was poignant and extremely well written, while the other half awarded one star to the book, vilified the author, her style of writing, her lifestyle and even the people who had enjoyed the book.

Note: despite all my efforts, I have not been able to find out who is this Lisa of whom Seth Godin speaks, nor the title of the book in question.

Isn’t it strange how a book can generate such opposite points of view? In fact, not really: the book didn’t generate anything. It only allowed readers to express the preferences and biases they had even before opening the book.

People don’t want to change their worldview. They like what they have, they believe in it and they want it reinforced.

3 – Style

Once people have paid attention to your story that matches with their worldview, the style, i.e., the outer layer and form of the message, is vital. Anything that can color your narration (words, colors, typefaces, images, packaging, pricing) is infinitely more important than the story itself.

The most important worldview

The desire to emulate the people we admire is what holds our society together. It is also the secret ingredient of any successful marketing business.

Worldviews are not created equal. Worldviews that are too intimate, embarrassing to share, or that belong to people who don’t like doing as others don’t offer as high a yield to marketers as those that are likely to be disclosed. From the marketer’s point of view, the most profitable worldviews are the ones consumers like to share, the ones that make them say “I absolutely have to talk about this!”. Word of mouth is the work of a small subset of the population. Whatever these minorities are, they share common traits that make them innovators or early adopters that many people will follow. For marketers who want to tell a story, this makes some consumers far more important than others.

Other worldviews of interest

1 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

It often takes an eternity before effective solutions are implemented because fear of change outweighs the risks posed by the status quo. In other words, people are waiting to have a heart attack or become diabetic before going on a diet.

It’s an extremely frustrating worldview that acts as a wall between the marketer and the consumers. You believe in your product, you know it will help consumers, but they refuse to pay any attention to it, never mind buy it.

One solution is to configure your product to make it easier to useSalesforce has successfully established itself in the saturated market of CRM solutions. Instead of offering an expensive and complex product, they offer a flexible model of web software with a 30-day free trial and a monthly subscription.

2 – I like working with you

Permission marketing and viral marketing (both of which have been the subject of two books by Seth Godin, Permission Marketing and The Secrets of Viral Marketing) work because they completely dissociate themselves from spam: with permission marketing, it’s the prospect who authorizes the marketer to contact him/her by signing up with a form; with viral marketing, the prospect learns about your product through friends or colleagues.

When a consumer chooses to receive messages from you or your company, they’re giving you clear indications of what their worldview is.

Here is an example to visualize how to use frames in a marketing approach:

Your boss asks you to launch a new type of chips.

In a classic approach, you start by finding a target market, choosing the media to use to reach, designing an advertisement to run in those media. You then pay the display fees and have your product placed in a colorful packaging on a shelf in the chips aisle. You also plan to distribute discount coupons.

In a worldview approach, it works differently: You know that supermarket’s chip aisle is jammed, as well as your consumer’s ability to pay attention. So, you begin to identify a segment that may be interested in a new story told differently. In this case, take the example of mothers who think that “chips aren’t healthy” and don’t want their children eating them. These consumers don’t go down the chip aisle and ignore the advertisements that concern these products.

You then design your story. Your chips are made with soy, not potatoes, and its organic, non-GMO, low in fat, sprinkled with sea salt and flavored with dulse and not sodium. They are not packaged in bags, but in boxes, and they’re not found in the chip aisle, but in the fresh produce section, where you’ll pay additional display fees.

Now you’re telling a totally different story. You used frames to tailor the product to the worldview of the segment you wanted to reach. If you did it right, you will get these potential customers to pay attention to your story and buy your products.

Mothers who share this worldview don’t form a homogeneous whole, but like all parents, they talk to each other and communicate with each other. Mothers in your target segment will start serving your chips for parties and give them to their children for school meals. Your products will slowly spread beyond the frame of your initial group, by word of mouth.

 Step 2: Consumers only notice what’s changing and guess the rest

To tell a story, you need to know how the brain of the person who will listen to it works. Whatever your goal, you only succeed if your idea spreads. An idea that spreads is a viral idea. If the consumers who matter to you know your idea, it will pay off.

Recent research shows that our brain uses four mechanisms to process the huge amount of information that we process every day:

  1. Detecting difference: when we are confronted with a fact, we compare it to the norm. If there is nothing new, we don’t take it into account.
  2. Looking for a cause: Once something catches our attention, we try to understand how it happened. If a window shatters, we immediately look for the ball that shattered it. We instantly develop a rule or theory to explain the event.
  3. Predicting: We then make a prediction, guessing what will happen next. If our prediction is right, similar events will no longer surprise us and our brain retreats into its fortress, ignoring such stimuli.
  4. Going into cognitive dissonance mode. Once we have an idea of the situation, have made a hypothesis about its causes, and have made a prediction on its outcome, we cling to our convictions and ignore as much as possible the data that contradict these beliefs, focusing our attention only on what confirms them. 

Step 3: The first impression starts the story

Purchase decisions are almost always instantaneous. These snap decisions, however, influence everything we do afterwards, and we are willing to go to great lengths to defend them.

Note: this is exactly what Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People: “We are incredibly heedless in the formation of our beliefs, but find ourselves filled with an illicit passion for them when anyone proposes to rob us of their companionship.”.

As we have seen, human beings cannot do without stories and spend their time making them up: they develop a theory through their observations and work tirelessly to refine it. And they do it quickly: it only takes a few seconds to make a final judgment about a retailer, a seller, a book cover or a television show. This speed of judgment is particularly devastating when it comes to evaluating another human being.

In his book Blink, Malcolm Gladwell provides irrefutable proof that human beings make decisions based on a tiny amount of data and then persevere in their decision despite all the facts that would undermine it.

The speed of these judgments may be surprising, but it can be easily explained: our ancestors had no chance of surviving in a hostile environment if they did not make wise and prompt decisions. We have inherited these faculties, but we have an ego and we feel compelled to justify our decisions. We don’t like to admit that we are wrong, so we skew our perceptions to confirm our first judgment.

To survive the onslaught of choices, consumers make snap judgments. They only need a fraction of a second to see how a person acts, speaks, stands and dresses, as well as to examine packaging, prices, uniforms, lighting, location and background music in stores, and draw immediate conclusions. These conclusions will always be contradicted by certain facts, but the person will not take them into account.

The myth of the first impression

Knowing that judgments are so snap, we risk falling victim to an obsession: that of making a perfect first impression.

The problem is that 99% of the time, the first impression leaves no impression, because contact and first impression are not synonymous. And that’s why authenticity is crucially important.

It doesn’t matter whether the story we are telling is entirely factual. If it’s interesting and formulated in terms of their worldview, the consumer will take it as his own and convince himself of his own lie. And that’s where authenticity comes in, because we don’t know how much the consumer will or won’t participate in the invention of a story he tells himself.

If our signs and our location are cool, but our employees and products aren’t, the story we tell isn’t consistent. Only when the company, organization, or person is authentic can we be sure that the story will be consistent enough to reach as many consumers as possible.

Step 4: Good marketers tell stories we believe

Consumers want to give the impression that they are rational, thoughtful and careful when they shop. Nothing could be further from the truth. They prefer stories. They rely on them.

Stories only work because consumers buy what they don’t need. When an individual has to satisfy a basic need (food, water, shelter), he/she is primarily concerned with the product he/she buys or rents. If he/she is really hungry, he/she cares much more about the content than for the packaging. Fortunately, it’s quite rare for an individual to truly suffer from hunger in our society. If consumers have everything they need, they just have to buy what they want. And they do this because it makes them feel good.

Consumers place a lot of importance on the buying process. They are concerned about the packaging, the approval of their colleagues or friends, the opinions that the use of this new product will generate around them and in their company. They are concerned about the origin of a product and the circumstances under which it’s manufactured. Once purchased, they are truly interested in its durability, but are even more interested in the reactions of employees or others if it stops working.

There is of course a link between the function of a product and the feeling it gives to those who use it. However, product functionality is not the only catalyst of desires. And that’s why the ideas in this book will help you.

Because we don’t buy what you sell.

We buy what we want.

Stories allow us to lie to each other, and our lies help us to satisfy our desires. It’s the story, not the product or service you sell, that satisfies the consumer. 

Examples of stories from “All Marketers Are Liars

Here are some examples of existing worldviews, as well as stories invented by marketers to stick to:

Sushi is better when the chef is Japanese.

Why is a sushi meal at Masa (which costs $ 300 per person) so much better than a similar $ 40 meal at the restaurant down the street?

Expectations are the engines of our perceptions. Complex stories carry all sorts of perceptions. The store where the consumer decides to shop, the way transactions are handled, the ambient noise, the background music, the lighting: all these things are at least as important as what is purchased.

Ralph Laurent owes much of his sales to second-rate items and job lots that he sells at his many Polo factory outlets. These stores are supposed to offer items on sale, but most of the clothes found there are not second-rate items, but clothes designed and made for these stores. Convinced that they are going to get a good deal, consumers are eagerly driving for hours to get to a warehouse and buy $40 for a $400 jacket that the company did not intend to sell for $400 at all, and costs $4 to make.

I like Seth Godin’s books.

In this paragraph, Seth Godin confesses to us that it is not he who wrote this book, that it is a freelancer named Mo Samuels to whom he gave three pages of notes that he threw together.

Does that bother you? Do the arguments presented in All Marketers Are Liars still seem so compelling? What does it matter to you who wrote this book? And yet, it’s highly likely that the idea that a man of mystery wrote this book instead of the guy whose name is on the cover doesn’t please you, if not anger you.

Of course, this is not true: Seth Godin really wrote All Marketers Are Liars. He wrote this to draw our attention to the fact that if his books are spreading, it’s because he has formed a community of readers who want Seth Godin’s fun, useful and somewhat irreverent books. If this book had been written by someone else with the same content, it’s the story that would change. And they would be quite upset.

Step 5: Authentic marketers succeed

The goal of any marketer is to create a purple cow, a product or experience so remarkable that people can’t help but talk about it. The question is how to produce this rare commodity. According to Seth Godin, the best way to go about it is to craft a story that we like to tell ourselves. If you manage to get your entire business telling the same story, you’ll multiply the chances of it being told a hundredfold.

When a story is authentic, all the details line up instantaneously. Humans are too intelligent to be fooled by a window-dressing, a facade distorting reality. You may very well fool people once or twice, but once fooled, a consumer will never repeat your story to anyone else.

If you’re authentic, you will benefit from thousands of sales, not merely a few sales that were deceitfully obtained. The cost of deception is simply too high.

But don’t forget: good stories promise to fulfill the desires of the consumer’s worldview. Here’s what they can offer:

  • A shortcut
  • A miracle
  • Money
  • Social success
  • Security
  • Ego
  • Leisure
  • Pleasure
  • A sense of belonging

They can also play on fear – by promising the consumer that he can avoid the opposite of everything on the list. All consumers are different, but all things considered, they have the same goals: they want to be promoted, renowned, rich, wise and healthy. They want to be pleasantly surprised and flattered.

But it’s not enough to praise the merits of one’s product. Almost everyone wants to have a better drill or buy slightly more nutritious muffins. Nothing is more common than these desires, your story must be the most remarkable thing out there.

Competition in the world of lies

What do you do if you have competitors? How will your narrative compete with other stories circulating on the market?

What you need to know is that you will never be able to break through by trying to tell a story better than your competitor does. You need to have an original approach, aimed in a precise way at the targeted segment. In addition, you must not hesitate to create controversy.

If the story is a factor that leads consumers to believe in a product, why didn’t Seth Godin title the book: All marketers Are Storytellers?  Because he wanted to push the envelope. He knew that no one would hate that title, that no one would oppose it, no one would challenge it. No one would talk about it.

The talented marketer takes a story, sharpens and expands it to the point where it stops being true – but it will become so! Don’t try to tell a story that involves no risk and isn’t controversial. Platitudes don’t go far.

Book critique of “All Marketers Are Liars”:

This is the first book by Seth Godin I have read. I came away from it slightly skeptical. The message he delivers is clear and seems relevant to me, but I find that the book is too long and that it has too rambling of a style. In fact, this is why I left out several chapters, which seemed less relevant to me.

The message of All Marketers Are Liars can be summed up in 5 points:

  1. Competitive advantages become too complex to formulate in one sentence and consumers need stories to understand what the product and the company are.
  2. Stories are what make people believe, irrationally, that some products are superior to other products. Therefore, people sincerely believe that a $80,000 Porsche Cayenne is better than a $36,000 Volkswagen Touareg, even though they share nearly all of their components. We buy stories, not products.
  3. An intelligent marketer should aim to craft good stories in order to increase the effectiveness of his/her marketing.
  4. To be effective, the stories must correspond to the target group’s worldview. If this is not the case, don’t try to change the worldview of consumers because people’s opinion can’t be changed; rather change the target group.
  5. To stand out from the competition and from the deluge of information that the consumer processes every day; we need to frame our story in a way that speaks to the consumers.

These points seem very relevant and are a good guide for marketers wanting to craft a story in the future for a company or product. However, it could have been said in fewer pages, by getting straight to the point. The first part on frames is clear and relatively concise, but I then had the impression that the same things were repeated over and over; to the point where the main points were sometimes obscured. Little is said about the ways and means of finding the target groups and their worldviews. Certainly, one needs to use further knowledge in marketing, which, I, for one, don’t possess.

Organization of the book quite sloppy

In addition, I find the organization of the book quite sloppy; including the lack of a plan or well-displayed methods to concretely apply the acquired knowledge into practical action. One will have to deduce the method and the action plan from the various clues throughout the book.

In conclusion, All Marketers Are Liars is an interesting book; however, it would have benefited from being shorter in length; from being better organized and from having more examples of the practical implementation of the imparted knowledge.

Strong points:

  • Relevant.
  • The key ideas found in the book provide instructions for practical use.

Weak points:

  • Disjointed and muddled.
  • Too dense with respect to the message conveyed.
  • You have to really fish for the methods, the steps, the how-to for practical use.

My rating : tribes people leader tribes people leader tribes people leadertribes people leadertribes people leadertribes people leadertribes people leadertribes people leadertribes people leader

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