Modern Marketing: Moves That Break the Mold

I’m a sucker for Q&A columns. Short, pithy, easy to digest… just what you want from a magazine. Still, try not to take the advice of strangers too seriously.

In a fall issue, I’ll again do my best to answer the questions you post on SUCCESS magazine’s Facebook page. SUCCESS will give you a heads-up around the time I want you to send me more questions.

Q: Where would you invest your marketing budget if you were starting a new business now, and why?

Unless you are already the market leader, there’s no question that 80 percent of your marketing budget should go into making a significantly better product or offering a better service than you do now. I know that you think you already make a great product. I’m guessing you already make a very good product. It’s probable your service is just fine, or better than just fine.

Just fine or even very good isn’t going to work, and no reasonable amount of marketing spending is going to fix that. What would you do if you had to deliver something more than fine? Something remarkable? Something that your customers couldn’t resist talking about? Go ahead and spend the money it takes to do that. Once you do, you’ll discover you need far fewer marketing dollars.

Examples: Zappos, Harley-Davidson, Porsche, The Shake Shack and The New Yorker.


Q: What should you look for when hiring a marketing manager for the first time for a small business?

Are you in need of a marketing manager or a marketing leader? A marketing manager goes to work with a checklist, a set of tasks that need to be repeatedly executed to deliver a result. This is just great for a mature, stable business. But if growth is on the agenda, you should probably be looking for a marketing leader, an executive who will question assumptions, challenge authority and push you to change your product, your service and your attitude.

Can you handle that?


Q: How many social media sites should you use, and what are the most important sites you should be using?

Hey, who let this guy in here? This is a dangerous question, because it escalates the medium (social) above the purpose (communicating with permission). No one asks how many hours you ought to spend answering the phone or what the receptionist’s desk should be made out of. Use the tools that help you achieve your purpose. Too often we get confused about who we’re trying to please and end up pleasing no one.


Q: Search engine optimization (SEO) or social media maximization?

A little background for any Luddites: SEO is the art of making your site friendly to the algorithm used by Google or Bing so that when someone types in a search, your company comes up on top of the search results. On the other hand, social media maximization means flooding sites such as Twitter and Facebook with plenty of links, friends, pokes, likes and hoopla so that the masses know you’re out there.

Not surprisingly, I’m not sure either is the way to go. Instead, I’d focus on so completely and totally owning an idea that people search for you instead of the generic category. Differentiate not your marketing but your product or service so that people don’t want to accept a substitute. Toyota doesn’t have to win the search for “car.” It can win for “Prius,” and that’s enough.

In social media, the idea is similar—when you stop trying to be Mr. Generic and focus instead on being unique, you don’t have to worry about gimmicks.


Q: What are some strategies for utilizing social media if you sell business-to-business services?

Understand out of the gate that B2B selling is very similar to consumer selling—a human being is going to buy what you sell. The essential difference is that this person is spending someone else’s money.

On one hand, this is great, because it means you have a lot more room when it comes to the emotion of spending—if it’s not my money, I’m probably going to sweat less. On the other hand, we often forget that the person who is buying from us rarely wants what we think he or she wants. The outsider would assume that a company buyer wants to find the most efficient way to grow the business, increase sales or perhaps profit. We think that rational business purchasers would care about what the company says it cares about.

In fact, in just about every case, the person you’re selling to cares about one thing: pleasing his or her boss. That’s how companies are structured. You got where you got by pleasing your boss, and there’s no good reason to stop now. Sometimes the boss wants what you would imagine, but always the boss needs a story. The person buying from you is sitting there saying, “What will I tell my boss?” If you make it easy to brag about what he or she just bought, you get the sale.

Enter social media.

The opportunity here is to provide an ongoing story, a drip-drip-drip of testimonials, progress, referrals and good news that make it safe and easy for someone to tell a story about you.

The opportunity of this revolution is for you to work inside the company to create experiences and opportunities that people choose to talk about—not because you’re paying them, but because those experiences and opportunities are remarkable. Once that happens, word spreads, and people do your marketing for you (because you’ve already invested in it).

And suddenly, your B2B calls get a lot easier because your story got a lot safer.


Seth Godin is the author of 14 best-selling books that have been translated into 36 languages. He’s the founder of, one of the largest and fastest-growing websites in the United States. Godin was vice president of direct marketing at Yahoo!, a job he got after selling them his pioneering 1990s online startup, Yoyodyne. 


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