Big marketing ideas from the experts: Thriving in the connected economy

Be remarkable, tell a story, date your prospects and create a ruckus!

Author, speaker, educator and thought leader Seth Godin needs little introduction in the marketing world. He’s blogged nearly every day for a decade, written 19 best-selling books, created the highly-successful ‘altMBA’ program, and been inducted into not one, but three, marketing Halls of Fame (Guerilla Marketing Hall of Fame, Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, and the plain old Marketing Hall of Fame). In fact, Google the word ‘Seth’ and his blog and his website are the top two organic hits (above the Wikipedia entry describing the origins of the name Seth). Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled to be speaking at the same event as my marketing hero at Print 18 in Chicago, Illinois. His keynote address, titled Thriving in the Connected Economy didn’t disappoint and I’m thrilled to share Seth’s insights with you here.

So let’s start with a big, loaded question – what is marketing? Merriam-Webster defines marketing as:

  1. The act or process of selling or purchasing in a market; the process or technique of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service.
  2. An aggregate of functions involved in moving goods from producer to consumer.

Godin defines marketing as:

  1. Doing work that matters for people who care.

Simply stated, he believes that strategic marketing is not for the masses. Instead, it’s for people who care about what you do. Marketers have a history of pushing stuff we, as consumers, don’t want. The era of “trust us because we’ve been in business for a long time” or “trust us because we’re a really big company” simply doesn’t work any more (here’s looking at you, Sears.) And being the local option is no longer an advantage – because web-to-print service providers enable consumers to buy high quality products produced all over the world from the comfort of their own homes. So what’s left?

He argues that you must dig deep and get to the core of why people want to engage with your business. Forget about appealing to the masses (defined by those within the normal distribution, existing under the largest part of the bell curve). The ‘normal people’ aren’t listening to you. The edges are much more important and relevant, and so you should appeal to the ‘weirdos’. In fact, Godin has written an entire book on the topic titled We Are All Weird (‘Mass is dead. Here comes weird!’). The further to the edges of the curve you work, the greater the chances that you’re doing work that matters to people who actually care about the work you’re doing. For example, why offer generic business cards to every business owner on the planet, when you can offer a range of marketing materials to owners of local restaurants complete with ‘scratch and sniff’ and other unique coating options. Work hard to gain an intimate understanding of their customers and their competitive landscape to help them tell their story through print.

This makes a lot of sense on a lot of levels, and it may explain why you’re not gaining the traction you believe you should be. Let’s take a deep dive down the marketing rabbit hole where I’ve broken down Godin’s ideas into four key themes – to help you think about marketing your products and services in today’s business landscape. I drank the ‘Seth Godin Kool-Aid’ years ago and after reading the next 2,000 words, I hope you’ll appreciate his insights as well.

FIRST: Be remarkable

Being remarkable is a worthy and noble pursuit. But how is ‘remarkability’ defined? Simply put, in order to be remarkable, you must be or do something that others can remark about. So what does it take to be remarkable? That’s a more challenging question to answer because what it takes changes every day. Therefore, you have to change too. When thinking about remarkability, do something worth talking about. Offer something different from your competitors, or offer something similar in a different way. Do this instead of lowering your prices to compete. Being the only option to customers who want what you’re offering means that your price is your price. And that’s what they’ll pay if they want to work with you. Lowering your price in lieu of remarkability is a losing race to the bottom.

Furthermore, Godin argues that waiting for a Request For Proposal (RFP) means that you’ve already lost. If potential clients are sending you an RFP, it means that they don’t care about all of the special offerings they can get from you, which is exactly why they’re sending you an RFP. In other words, if your prospect can write it down, they can likely find it cheaper elsewhere. The reason they want you to fit in, is so they can ignore you. It’s the intangibility of your offerings that makes customers want to work with you – an intangibility that your competitors will have a difficult time copying.

SECOND: Storytelling is the ‘secret sauce’

Storytelling is a powerful, age-old technique to get people to listen to what you’re saying – and more importantly, actually care about what you’re saying. Take the Tiffany & Company brand, for example. Tiffany’s rich history of craftsmanship and innovation as an American company in an industry dominated by European companies has enabled the brand to write the age-old tale: Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy asks girl to marry him. And, he turns to the most trusted name in jewellery because he purchases a ring that’ll express just how deeply he cares…..the one with the little blue box…..the one from Tiffany & Company.

But how much is that little blue box actually worth? Godin argues that it’s worth a whole heck of a lot more than the ring itself. If a Tiffany’s ring sells for $6,000, the ring may be objectively appraised (minus the brand value of Tiffany & Co.) at $1,000. So what’s the little blue box and the Tiffany’s story worth? Precisely $5,000. The brand story crafted by Tiffany & Company and the reputation they’ve built, enables them to stand out amongst a crowd of other jewellers – and charge top dollar for products that come ‘wrapped in a story.’

Furthermore, let’s say you’re in the business of selling drill bits. Godin argues that no one actually needs a 1/4” drill bit. In fact, they don’t need a hole in their wall either. They also don’t need the shelf that’ll be hung on the screw anchored to the wall. When we drill down to the underlying needs, they need to feel that the shelf they just hung looks good, and they need to receive validation from loved ones.

Now, let’s apply this analogy to the printing industry. No one actually needs paper or ink or special cover stock that goes into making a book. In fact, they don’t even need the book itself! They also don’t need the story inside the book. When we uncover their true needs, they need to feel the love and care that comes from reading a beloved picture book with their child – for the 25th time this week!

Cat food is not marketed to cats (Please stay with me…). If it were, it would be mouse-flavoured. Instead, cat food is, of course, marketed to cat owners who can afford (and have the ability) to buy cat food. Figure out who needs to hear the story you’re telling and craft your message to establish connections and communicate authentically with that audience. Therefore, don’t just sell paper and ink (neither features, nor benefits). Instead, sell a story. Sell a story that your prospects can tell their boss. Sell a story that fits their world view and can inherently be shared with others. Understanding what Godin calls your ‘smallest viable market’ helps clarify the story you should tell. Determining for whom your remarkable product, service or experience is intended, helps to clarify who’ll listen as well as the impact you’ll make in the process.

THIRD: Go ahead, ‘date’ your prospects

There are two ways to find someone to marry you. First, you can hop on a dating app and find your future husband or wife by asking everyone to marry you. This is a numbers game where most people will ignore you. However, sooner or later you’re bound to find someone who will say ‘yes’ (although, I’d be nervous to meet this ‘yes-man’ or ‘yes-woman’). The second way to find your future husband or wife is through dating. Meet people spend time with them, invest in getting to know them, and see where it goes from there. In this instance, there’s a much better chance that the relationship will be more meaningful and longer-lasting for the two of you.

Asking everyone on Tinder to marry you is to mass marketing, as traditional dating is to building meaningful business relationships. Like most things in life, quality counts over quantity. So why aren’t you ‘dating’ your prospects? Make them your friends and build relationships by treating each person differently. Customize their experiences with you and in doing so, you’ll make them feel inherently more human than through digital spam. Godin points out that it’s the first time in history that we can do this. We’ve been spamming our prospects for a long time and there are more opportunities than ever before to engage in real, meaningful relationships built on humanity and trust.

Furthermore, he argues that viewing the sales process as a funnel (which is how most of us believe the selling framework must exist), is really expensive. Instead, through remarkability and framing your remarkability in a story that’s easily remembered and re-told, you’re essentially handing your funnel to your customer so they can flip the whole process on its head – thus turning the funnel it into a ‘megaphone.’ These people are now your brand ‘evangelists.’ By authentically sharing their remarkable experiences with you and your business, your customers become an additional fleet of ‘free’ outside sales reps, so to speak, who spread the word on your behalf. This helps more like-minded people come together to do great work, which in turn, creates a larger fleet of sales reps, growing your business every step of the way.

FOURTH: It’s your turn to make a ‘ruckus’

“It’s easy, it’s fun and it’s guaranteed to work…..all of that is true except for the part about easy, fun and guaranteed.” Godin believes that innovation is defined by failing over and over again until you find something that works. Innovation requires strong leadership and he believes that there’s a fundamental difference in the way companies should think about ‘management’ versus ‘leadership’. To ‘manage’ means to do what you did yesterday faster and cheaper. How can you offer the same printed products in five business days instead of seven? How can you reduce the costs associated with making business cards to compete with cheaper web-to-print providers?

To ‘lead’ means moving forward knowing that what you’re doing might not work. How can you refine your offerings to a better serve your most important customers? How can you speak more directly to the immediate needs and wants of your customers to make an impact? Leadership requires an affinity for feeling tension. Godin argues that there’ll always be tension involved because it might not work. Furthermore, he argues that great innovation and ruckus-making always happens too soon. The example he provided was of Gutenberg’s commercialization of the printing process in the mid-15th Century.

At this time in history, many Europeans were illiterate or at least unable to read anything complex. Additionally, very few books other than religious texts existed in the world. It’s estimated that 15% of people needed reading glasses (which hadn’t been invented yet) and there were no bookstores in which to sell books. Needless to say, if Gutenberg had waited to move forward because of these constraints, we would be no where close to our current existence as humans on the planet today. His commercialization of moveable type and printing technology gave way to mass literacy all over the world, the proliferation of new ideas (the ‘Intellectual Big Bang’), and communication technology that came after his work. Thank you, Mr. G, for leading us into the modern age.

In Godin’s infinite wisdom, he reveals this advice about making a ruckus: “The thing is, there’s no easy way to do this. No simply way to quiet the noise in your head, no proven method to earn the respect and applause of your family and friends, no guaranteed approach that’s going to insulate you from heartache. This might not work. It might not be fun. But I hope you’ll do it anyway.”

Finally, the most powerful part of his keynote presentation was the moment he requested the audience to: “Raise your right hand as high as you can.” We all dutifully played along (knowing there would be an impending twist). He quietly looked out at a room full of right hands raised as far as they could reach and made another request: “Now raise it higher.” And guess what happened? Every single hand in the room inched a little higher towards the ceiling!

The lesson here? We all hold back. We all have more to give. There are always new ways to think about solving old problems – and it’s our job as leaders of the graphic arts industry to help our customers solve problems that they don’t even know they have. Leading means being remarkable in our offerings, using storytelling as a way to share our remarkability, building meaningful relationships with our prospects, and ultimately making a ruckus on our way to the top.

Thanks for the reminders Seth. It was indeed a pleasure – as always.



Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.