Seth Godin, the master of marketing | Three book summaries and reviews

Seth Godin is an American entrepreneur, world-renowned speaker, author and blogger, famous for inventing the concept of permission marketing and a specialist in marketing storytelling. Seth Godin’s books deal with marketing but also with personal development.

If you don’t know this entrepreneur with innovative ideas yet, I invite you to read this article! You will find summaries and reviews of three major books by Seth Godin. No doubt that by the end of the read you will have enriched your knowledge and gleaned ideas to boost your business and your life!

Seth Godin, entrepreneur and prolific author

Seth Godin

Who’s Seth Godin?

Seth Godin was born on July 10, 1960 in Mount Vermont, New York, USA. Seth Godin graduated from Tufts University in 1979 where he studied computer science and philosophy. He continued his studies at the Stanford Graduate School of Business until 1984 where he obtained an MBA in marketing. He quickly went into business and in 1995 founded Yoyodine, a company specializing in Internet marketing. Seth then sold it to Yahoo for $30 million and became its marketing director in 1998.

Marketing according to Seth Godin

By inventing the concept of permission marketing, Seth Godin goes against all the usual marketing principles. His approach is, in fact, to ask the permission of the targeted persons: the customer is, in effect, invited to enter and then accept increasing levels of permission, i.e. consent in relation to a brand or product, through relationship marketing.

Seth Godin’s main books

Seth Godin’s books, both on marketing and personal development, have all been successful. In 2004, his book “Free Prize Inside” received the Business Book of the Year award from Forbes magazine. His books urge readers to move away from immobility and the status quo to finally take action:

  • This is marketing”, 2019
  • “What to do when it’s your turn: and it’s always your turn”, 2014
  • The Icarus deception: how high can you fly?”, 2013.
  • “All marketers are liars: the power of telling authentic stories in a low-trust world”, 2011.
  • “Unleashing the ideavirus”, 2011.
  • “Purple cow, transform your business by being remarkable”, 2011.
  • We are all weird,” 2011
  •  “Permission marketing: turning strangers into friends, and friends into customers”, 2011
  • Poke the box”, 2011
  • Linchpin: are you indispensable?”, 2010
  • “Tribes: we need you to lead us”, 2009
  • All marketers are liars: the power of telling authentic stories in a low-trust world”, 2007
  • “Business rules of thumb”, 1988.

Seth Godin’s three flagship books!

1. “All marketers are liars” by Seth Godin.

All Marketers Are Liars - Seth Godin

The first known work of Seth Godin’s books, “All marketers are liars” delivers the essential rule of marketing: storytelling. Thus, by reading this book, you will discover 5 essential marketing ideas:

  • If the marketer’s a liar, he’s not the only one;
  • If the marketer’s a liar, he’s still responsible;
  • It would be unwise to try to convince everyone;
  • Nothing beats a story that comes from the heart, authentic;
  • Wanting to beat your competitor at his own game is doomed to failure.

Storytelling or the art of telling stories

Men have always told each other stories. It allows them to explain the world they don’t understand, it reassures them. That’s what marketing is all about, it’s much more than advertising. If marketers tell stories, it’s because that’s what the consumer wants. So the marketer is a liar only in that he tells stories.

Seth Godin gives us the example of Riedel’s glasses. Riedel is a glassblower who creates different types of wine glasses. Then he promotes them by saying that his glasses improve the taste of the wine. And this story works because he has persuaded an eminent oenologist that this is true!

Seven rules for telling a good story

In order for a story to be effective, i.e. to hit your target, you have to respect the following seven rules:

  • Be authentic and consistent;
  • Make a promise and keep it;
  • Be reliable;
  • Be subtle;
  • Captivate your audience from the very beginning;
  • Using the senses;
  • Don’t try to please everyone.

When you build your story, think about:

  • Providing an answer to the consumer’s desires;
  • Valuing their ego;
  • Play on their sense of belonging.

The purchase is rarely rational, it is rather impulsive and responds to a desire, a desire much more than a real need. It is therefore not the product itself that is important but the story around the product. It is therefore important to give people what they want and therefore to tell them the story they want to hear.

So the first thing to do is to know your target. Never try to change people’s minds, it doesn’t work. Adapt yourself to the vision your target has. Use the right words: “safe gun carrying” is close to “banning guns”, yet depending on your target’s worldview, they will be more sensitive to either of these terms.

Knowing how the human brain works

Our brain sorts the information it receives through 4 mechanisms. It..:

  • Track the differences;
  • Look for an explanation for everything;
  • Likes to guess the right answer;
  • Seeks to strengthen his own convictions.

It is important to know how the human brain works in order to tell an effective story.

A good marketer is authentic

All marketers lie. Yes, but that doesn’t stop them from being authentic:

  • Tell a story, but don’t mislead your customers; stay authentic and don’t cheat or the audience will turn away from you.
  • Don’t confuse “bluff” and “fraud”: “bluff” is focusing your story on a particular point of view; “fraud” is lying without worrying about the consequences.
  • To stand out from your competitors, tell a different story. Be bold, don’t be afraid of not pleasing everyone: take responsibility for your story and your vision.

Review of “All marketers are liars”

In “All marketers are liars“, Seth Godin shares with us a very interesting and very fashionable concept: storytelling. However, the book would have benefited from being shortened. Indeed, Seth Godin dilutes enormously his words. The content is poorly organized and does not really give any method or actions to implement (it is more of a theoretical treatise than a practical work) but it delivers many interesting ideas that you can identify and exploit for a concrete use in your marketing strategy.

Strong Points:

  • The concept of storytelling, which represents a relevant marketing strategy;
  • The many key ideas to be identified and explored for an interesting implementation.

Weak Points:

  • The content is rather disjointed and draft-like, and too long for the delivered message;
  • One must analyze and synthesize either the content or the content itself in order to derive a practical method.

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2. “Tribes,” by Seth Godin.

tribes people leader
In “Tribes“, Seth Godin explains what leadership is, how it is necessary to manage a “tribe” and thus create change.

You will learn, more precisely, 5 essential points about leadership:

  • Leaders and their “tribes” are the future of society as it is in perpetual change;
  • Leadership is not innate; it is acquired by overcoming fear;
  • The leader must put the interests of his “tribe” first;
  • You must become a leader;
  • You need to create and manage your tribe.

Tribe? Leader? What’s that exactly?

A “tribe” is a group of connected people who share a common interest, a common vision. This group functions with a “leader” at its head who is also connected to the group. It is this leader who will bring and share his or her vision with the group. “Leader” and “tribe” are therefore intrinsically linked and inseparable.

According to Seth Godin, tribes are necessary in the improvement of existence: all human beings need to feel that they belong to a group with which they share a vision. The invention of the Internet, and especially the emergence of social networks, has made it easier for people to come together by eliminating geographical constraints. Today, it has become extremely easy to create a tribe. Moreover, there is no longer any need to be physically close to be part of the same tribe. So the question is no longer whether you can become a leader, but rather how and when you will become a leader.

How to become a good leader?

Fear of change is a brake. Indeed, even though we live in a world where many levers exist, we are used to getting stuck. We have been educated that way. Only a core of heretics actually question the status quo.

A leader is capable of challenging this status quo, regardless of his or her hierarchical position. As tribes grow in number, the need for leaders increases as well. Seth Godin explains that you can be that leader: you just need to have the skills to convince others to buy into your point of view.

Seth Godin gives Thomas Barnett as an example. He was one of thousands of Pentagon employees, a simple researcher among others. One day, he had an idea, thought about it, worked on it and then presented it in a three-hour speech. He became a leader who was respected and listened to, including by military personnel far above him. From an anonymous employee, he became a leader, thanks to his attitude and talent.

A leader must start by creating his movement!

To become the leader of his tribe is good, but for Seth Godin, it’s not enough: you have to create a movement!

The idea is not for the group to follow you like a flock of sheep, but rather for you to drive the movement so that people act on their own. They need to be able to talk to each other, to exchange ideas, to circulate ideas, to allow them to do together what they think is right. Giving them orders and directives to follow is not effective. A movement needs a common history, a connection, both between the leader and his tribe and among the tribe members. It needs to push the boundaries.

Then, when the movement is launched, the leader can increase his efficiency thanks to 3 actions:

  • The common interest must become a goal that will be guided by passion and the desire for change;
  • Tribe members must have effective tools to communicate effectively;
  • The leader must influence the tribe to develop and attract new members.

The establishment of a tribe

Three important ideas are developed by Seth Godin about the tribe:

  • First of all, there’s no need to focus on numbers. A small tribe with few people but in which each person is deeply involved is preferable to a large tribe full of “tourists”.
  • Likewise, you should not try to please everyone: the interest of a tribe is also to exclude people who do not recognize themselves in your vision.
  • The important thing is to have faith and to pass it on. Careful, Seth Godin is talking about faith, not religion. You have to believe in yourself, in your ideas, in your plans. Without that faith, it’s impossible to be a leader and to lead a tribe.

What if you’re wrong?

That’s all right. It is absolutely impossible not to make a mistake. Even the greatest make mistakes: remember Steve Jobs and the Apple III. Be prepared to make a mistake and admit that it’s not important.

Review of the book “Tribes”, by Seth Godin.

The main flaw of this book is that it is not a practical manual. As a result, it is not very well organized and does not include concrete actions to be put in place.

On the other hand, it is an excellent leadership manifesto. Although the reader must make the effort to put the book together himself, he will have at his disposal a very relevant and inspiring content.

Strong Points:

  • There are many relevant ideas that you can use to boost your leadership;
  • Interesting examples and counter-examples.

Weak Points:

  • The content is a little sketchy and unstructured;
  • Ideas should be analyzed to highlight, on their own, instructions for practical use.

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Have you read “Tribes”? How do you rate it?

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3. “Are you indispensable?” by Seth Godin.

Are You Indispensable
With “Are you indispensable“, Seth Godin leaves his favourite field, marketing, to focus on personal development. Indeed, for the author, the world of work has changed: it is no longer a question to remain anonymous, drowned in the mass, but, on the contrary, it is necessary to stand out.

The changing world of work

The professional world has changed with the decline of industrialization and the advent of the Internet. Also, according to Seth Godin, work is no longer composed of two groups: workers and managers. He now includes a third: the “Linchpins”, literally “the pivots”. These people are the ones who make all the difference in a company: they move the lines, they can direct, they can connect…

Faced with this change, we are, according to the author, free to decide what we want: we can choose a quiet work where we will be content to follow the instructions given or, on the contrary, we will want to try to differentiate ourselves?

Seth Godin invites us to follow the second option, to sweep away all false excuses and go for it! Society has always created docile human beings. But fortunately, we have the power to change! All we have to do is change our attitude. And for Seth Godin, this can be summed up in just two points:

  • Know how to solve interesting problems;
  • Lead.


What’s a “Linchpin”?

In appearance, it’s just a simple assembly part, like a screw for example, except that without it everything collapses! It has a unique added value. In a company, a Linchpin is a person who coordinates. He or she is the one who sets things in motion, invents, solves problems. He or she is someone who is passionate about his or her work, who is genuinely committed and does not just carry out the tasks required.

In life in general, we are all Linchpins when we talk about our passion. And it is this passion that we must reproduce in our work to stand out: showing our motivation, anticipating expectations will differentiate us.

However, resistance to change is persistent and it is not easy to change our habits. Our brain is a saboteur that takes a malicious pleasure in resisting. Seth Godin then explains that the only way to move forward is to be aware of this and to anticipate “bad” reactions.

Review of Seth Godin’s book “Are You Indispensable?”

Seth Godin leaves the world of marketing to enter the world of personal development, continuing to deliver his message, always interesting and relevant. He makes us reflect on the world of work in general and on our place in particular: what do we really want? Are we ready to change to get what we want?

However, even if the theme is different from other Seth Godin books, “Are you indispensable” shares their flaws. One expects a practical guide but, in fact, Seth Godin does not give ready-made solutions. He simply shares his point of view.

Strong Points:

  • An optimistic and innovative approach to work;
  • A very motivating book that questions our relationship to work and the meaning we give it;
  • The many inspiring stories of managers and employees.

Weak Points:

  • It is regrettable that the book does not include practical methods;
  • Some redundant ideas that don’t bring much to the reader;
  • Chapter divisions reduced to one page do not promote the proper development of ideas.

My rating : Seth Godin marketing Seth Godin marketing Seth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketingSeth Godin marketing

Have you read “Are You Indispensable”? How do you rate it?

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Quotes from Seth Godin’s books

Quotes from Seth Godin on marketing

  • “Better to have a thousand real fans than a dozen thousand who don’t really care about you.”
  • “Don’t make a product for everybody, because it will be a product for nobody.”
  • “Now is the time to be fashionable.”
  • “Don’t find customers for your products, find products for your customers.”
  • “If you’re making a presentation, you have something to sell. So do it. Don’t leave without a “yes,” or at least a commitment to a date or a next step.”

Quotes from Seth Godin on Leadership and Work

  • “The essence of leadership is to be aware of your fear (and to detect it in those you want to lead).”
  • “The greatest enemy of change and leadership is not a “no”, it’s a “not yet.”

Quotes from Seth Godin on business and the world of work

  • “We live in a world where we have the power to make things happen, the desire to do a job we believe in and a market that begs us to be remarkable.”
  • “The strength of small structures is their size. Use that strength and flexibility to make yourself irresistible to demanding customers.”

Quotes from Seth Godin on storytelling

  • “People don’t buy goods or services. They buy relationships, stories and magic.”
  • “Either you tell stories that spread or you will become irrelevant.”
  • “Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make but about the stories you tell”

Quotes from Seth Godin on communication

  • “People don’t believe what you tell them. They rarely believe what you show them, they often believe what their friends tell them. They always believe what they tell themselves.”
  • “If you believe in your idea, then sell it. Stand up for your point as hard as you can, and get what you came for. Your audience will thank you, because deep down, we all want to be convinced.”
  • “The purpose of communication is to get others to adopt your point of view, to help them understand what is important to you. If all you want to do is make a file with words and numbers, then cancel the meeting and send a written document!”
  • “You can lead communication with an excess or lack of logic, but you cannot establish good communication without emotion. Logic is not enough.”

Quotes from Seth Godin on success and failure

  • “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing.”
  • “Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to change our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better future.”
  • “If you never fail, you’re either very lucky or you never do anything.”
  • “I’m not sure if I’m right, but I’ll take my chances anyway.”
  • “Success breeds success. The more business you do, the more opportunities you’ll see.”
  • “Success takes time, because the easier paths are already taken.”

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