We are all Liars – an interview with Marketing Guru Seth Godin

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip June 2, 2005

This is the story of a man named Seth. Author of Permission Marketing, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Purple Cow and others, Seth’s latest opus is the deceptively titled All Marketers are Liars. I say “deceptively” because Seth’s real thesis is that marketing at its best is storytelling and the stories we tell ourselves to justify what products and services we consume are, in a sense, “lies.”


So what’s your station’s story? Is it meaningful? Is it distinctive? Is it true?

1. Why do you think stories are such a powerful marketing tool?

“Humans have been telling each other stories for a long, long time,” Seth wrote me. “We like them. We believe them. We repeat them. Facts are a poor stand in for stories.”

That’s something to consider as you construct your messages to listeners. If your “facts” sounds dry as the Sahara in the noontime sun, a livelier story can increase the audience’s understanding and appreciation of what you do and why they should care.

For example, the JACK format’s mantra “We play what we want” is a clever way to tell a story that “we play everything – vastly more variety than anybody else.” And it’s paying off. This format tends to grab the “Variety” position wherever it is well programmed without ever using the “V”-word. The rug is pulled out from under “Mix”-type stations that have been pounding “Variety” for years. JACK’s story is just plain more interesting and compelling.

2. You talk a lot about the consumer’s worldview. What is the worldview of the Radio audience and how can radio stations use it to their advantage?

“A worldview is the set of biases and expectations that people bring to your product or service. When I turn on the radio, I’m not particularly interested, for example, in what the DJ has to say about, say, gold futures. In a different setting, from a different person, I’m all ears.”

“Radio has boxed itself into a corner because the worldview of listeners is to barely listen to the voices, ignore the commercials and wait for the next hit song. Radio invented that worldview and it’s going to be very hard to change.”

3. You emphasize the importance of authenticity in the stories we tell listeners. How does the listener distinguish between stories that are authentic and those which are designed to look authentic, but may not be? For example, a radio station may say it’s “true to the music” or “world class rock” but how does the listener know this is authentic and the station isn’t simply pulling a phrase off the rack?

“The thing is, once you start telling a story, it’s very easy for a listener to figure out if you’re not authentic. There are too many things you have to get right, all the time. Starbucks, for example, lives and breathes their story of coffee obsession. Dunkin Donuts might put up some fancy signs, but we can taste the difference. If you’re really true to the music, you will hire the right people, play the right stuff and not sell out. A hard act to keep up.”

The lesson for broadcasters: Don’t just make a promise, live it. Every day and every way.

4. You say a marketer must either communicate a story which spreads or become irrelevant. Can you think of a radio station with a story that strikes you as particularly compelling?

“The Air America story was compelling–but only to a tiny subset of the world. Within that world, it spread very, very fast. There are shows on NPR that have succeeded in the same way. Most radio, though, is middle of the road mass market stuff, and by definition, there’s not much of a story there.”

The lesson for broadcasters: Seek an edge, any edge that your audience will value. Sacrifice anything you must to find that edge and build your story around it.

5. You say “no one buys facts, they buy a story.” But the vast majority of radio stations promote themselves by facts, not stories: “20 in a row,” “the best mix” and so on. What would you say to these broadcasters?

“I think the story you tell advertisers is even more important than consumer marketing hype. That story needs to be about the very different worldview, attention and trust that your listeners bring you. And that will only happen if the product you sell generates an audience with a different worldview.”

“Buying ads on a typical radio station is harder and harder to justify. Buying ads on a radio station with an intelligent, alert, high-spending, trusting audience, on the other hand, is a no-brainer.”

The lesson for broadcasters: In the new mediascape, the bland will no longer lead the bland. When the competition for your music position is virtually infinite it’s the quality of your audience, not simply the quantity, that will make it a must- buy.

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