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Seth Godin Has 10 Thought-Provoking Tips for SMBs

October 13, 2022

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As a business leader, you’ve probably read your fair share of marketing books. And odds are pretty good that one of them was “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin. It’s arguably one of the most famous marketing books that exist — and a significant game changer for entrepreneurs worldwide. 

But Seth is actually the mastermind behind 20 (yes, you read that right) best-selling books including “Tribes” and “This is Marketing.” He’s also written ebooks, given TED talks, and pioneered ethical online direct marketing, which is now a $30B a year industry. 

At Playbook 2022, we had the honor and privilege to sit down with Seth and dive deep into his story. And in this value-packed interview, he offers up ten thought-provoking tips for SMBs:

1. See opportunity in extraordinary change.

Seth was born in the 1960s, an era of significant change (namely, social equality and war apprehension). But because of the circumstances, it produced an excellent opportunity for young visionaries. “[Malcolm] Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ [says] it’s no accident that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the same age,” Seth told us. 

And the same opportunity is available today.

But how exactly do you make the most of this post-pandemic time? Seth suggests focusing on creating real value for real people. That means getting back to the basics, listening to your customer's needs, and adjusting your offering to meet current challenges. 

“When the world changes, there are opportunities for people without power.” – Seth Godin, entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker 

2. Gain attention with trust, not hustle.

Marketing is constantly changing, but Seth says, “attention is always going to be scarce — even more than real estate.” But getting that attention doesn’t have to involve hustling, tricking, or stealing people’s attention, which he believes is the standard advice for marketing.

Instead, Seth suggests gaining trust by making valuable contributions to your customers’ lives. And to do that, you must first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who trusts you?
  • Who chooses to pay attention to you?
  • Who gives you the benefit of the doubt?

The answers to these questions will lead you to your customers, community, or tribe. Then, it’s just a matter of listening to them and taking their feedback seriously. Because according to Seth, meeting their needs is the only way to sustainable marketing success. 

3. Humanity is scarce and a key differentiator.

Besides trust, Seth also believes that the human element of business will never go out of style (in marketing and beyond). That’s why he believes humanity will be a crucial differentiator for companies moving forward. And for SMBs, that could mean avoiding strict adherence to scripts or any type of AI customer support if you can. But it could also mean creating a caring culture.

“Humanity will get more valuable as we decide where to allocate our trust.”

4. Focus on reaching someone versus everyone.

Seth says there is too much pressure on entrepreneurs to reach everyone and take their brand to the mass market. But Seth believes it’s more important to figure out how to matter to a few people. That way, you can focus on building trust with who you serve and forget everyone else.

This is what Seth calls “finding your smallest viable audience,” and it takes understanding your customers’ psychographics in addition to their demographics. This includes their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Then, it’s your job as a business leader to find these people, weave together a community they’d miss, and support them with valuable offerings.

“To matter to a few people is way more important than to be noticed by everyone.”

5. Consistency over authenticity

According to Seth, authenticity in business is a crock. “No one wants you to be authentic. [Customers] want consistency,” he explained. And they want you to behave consistently even when no one is watching.

For example, no one wants to go to a music concert and hear the singer canceled due to a cold — even though they’re being authentic. Instead, the concertgoers want the experience they paid for with a professional who brings their best effort. “Professionals are consistent; authenticity is lazy,” Seth explained. And while it’s a bit controversial, it makes sense to bring your best version of yourself to the business above all else.

6. Start documenting and know it will most likely change. 

Seth is known for publishing daily blogs. He calls it a “practice” and has since reached an astounding 8,500 posts on his website. But how has Seth managed such an incredible feat? “Simply write,” he told us. And the same advice applies to SMBs documenting their business. 

According to Seth, the first step to documenting is learning how to write a recipe that eliminates any assumptions. For example, you must put the peanut butter on before the jelly (when making a PB&J), or the peanut butter will not spread properly. But if you assume the reader already knows that, you might end up with a terrible sandwich.

Then, it’s just a matter of writing out all your SOPs — and knowing that you’ll probably get it wrong. “You have to write it wrong so that people can give you feedback,” Seth told us. Then, it’s just a matter of updating your documentation. 

“[Documentation] needs to be done wrong, so it can be done right.” 

7. Tell your teams to break it, ask questions, and iterate. 

Seth is a big proponent of just starting, whether it’s writing or documenting. And that’s because it’s impossible to get anything done if you don’t begin. But how do you ensure that your team updates and improves your processes? Seth says by telling them to break it and ask questions. 

For example, the Sleepy’s Mattress owner used to call all 70 retail stores daily to ask employees what was wrong or not working. If the employee didn’t have an example, Mr. Sleepy would fire them. But if they had an issue to offer, he would fix it immediately and move on to the next one. 

“It’s challenging to say what could be better because it implies something could be better,” Seth explained. “But the alternative is that everything is perfect, and that can’t be true.” In other words, permit your employees to point out what’s wrong, proactively fix issues, and update the SOPs in your documentation to improve your business continuously.  

8. Let people show up as their whole selves.

Seth says that customers often choose smaller companies (over large corporations) for the human aspect of the culture. “The vast majority of your [employees] are not doing everything by the book every day,” he told us. “But that’s why people pick [your business].” And if you can cultivate that part of your culture, you can make deeper connections with your community. 

“Figure out how you can let someone bring their whole selves to work,” Seth explained. That way, they’re more likely to bring care and emotional labor to their job. And if you can cultivate that individuality, you can bet those employees will be missed when they’re gone.

9. Spam isn't marketing, and cold DMs aren't sales.

For Seth, selling is largely an effect of good marketing — not spamming or messaging customers until you get a response. But what exactly is good marketing? Seth states, “Marketing is making something people want to buy and talk about.” And that means you have to have a good product or service before reaching out to strangers on LinkedIn. 

“Job number one is [creating] a contagious, viral, and useful service or product that spreads without me having to call people on the phone,” Seth explained. Then, it’s about spreading relevant messages to the people who want to hear them (AKA, your target market). 

To get started with this type of bottom-up approach to marketing, Seth suggests the following books: “SPIN Selling” by Neil Rackham and “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa.

10. Stop interviewing candidates.

Finally, Seth suggests dropping traditional interviews from your recruiting repertoire. And his reasoning? “All you’re looking for is [someone] who’s good at interviewing,” Seth told us — instead of looking for someone who’s good at the job.

“The best way [to interview candidates] is to work with them first,” Seth explained. And to do that, he suggests giving candidates a one-off, paid project to see their results and work style. “If someone is good when you’re working with them now, they’ll probably be good when you’re working with them later,” Seth concluded. 

Running a sustainable, successful SMB is not always (if ever) easy. But with Seth Godin’s back-to-basics and thought-provoking tips, you can implement some long-term plays today that lead to lasting business results. 

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Seth Godin Has 10 Thought-Provoking Tips for SMBs

October 13, 2022

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As a business leader, you’ve probably read your fair share of marketing books. And odds are pretty good that one of them was “Purple Cow” by Seth Godin. It’s arguably one of the most famous marketing books that exist — and a significant game changer for entrepreneurs worldwide. 

But Seth is actually the mastermind behind 20 (yes, you read that right) best-selling books including “Tribes” and “This is Marketing.” He’s also written ebooks, given TED talks, and pioneered ethical online direct marketing, which is now a $30B a year industry. 

At Playbook 2022, we had the honor and privilege to sit down with Seth and dive deep into his story. And in this value-packed interview, he offers up ten thought-provoking tips for SMBs:

1. See opportunity in extraordinary change.

Seth was born in the 1960s, an era of significant change (namely, social equality and war apprehension). But because of the circumstances, it produced an excellent opportunity for young visionaries. “[Malcolm] Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ [says] it’s no accident that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the same age,” Seth told us. 

And the same opportunity is available today.

But how exactly do you make the most of this post-pandemic time? Seth suggests focusing on creating real value for real people. That means getting back to the basics, listening to your customer's needs, and adjusting your offering to meet current challenges. 

“When the world changes, there are opportunities for people without power.” – Seth Godin, entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker 

2. Gain attention with trust, not hustle.

Marketing is constantly changing, but Seth says, “attention is always going to be scarce — even more than real estate.” But getting that attention doesn’t have to involve hustling, tricking, or stealing people’s attention, which he believes is the standard advice for marketing.

Instead, Seth suggests gaining trust by making valuable contributions to your customers’ lives. And to do that, you must first ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who trusts you?
  • Who chooses to pay attention to you?
  • Who gives you the benefit of the doubt?

The answers to these questions will lead you to your customers, community, or tribe. Then, it’s just a matter of listening to them and taking their feedback seriously. Because according to Seth, meeting their needs is the only way to sustainable marketing success. 

3. Humanity is scarce and a key differentiator.

Besides trust, Seth also believes that the human element of business will never go out of style (in marketing and beyond). That’s why he believes humanity will be a crucial differentiator for companies moving forward. And for SMBs, that could mean avoiding strict adherence to scripts or any type of AI customer support if you can. But it could also mean creating a caring culture.

“Humanity will get more valuable as we decide where to allocate our trust.”

4. Focus on reaching someone versus everyone.

Seth says there is too much pressure on entrepreneurs to reach everyone and take their brand to the mass market. But Seth believes it’s more important to figure out how to matter to a few people. That way, you can focus on building trust with who you serve and forget everyone else.

This is what Seth calls “finding your smallest viable audience,” and it takes understanding your customers’ psychographics in addition to their demographics. This includes their hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Then, it’s your job as a business leader to find these people, weave together a community they’d miss, and support them with valuable offerings.

“To matter to a few people is way more important than to be noticed by everyone.”

5. Consistency over authenticity

According to Seth, authenticity in business is a crock. “No one wants you to be authentic. [Customers] want consistency,” he explained. And they want you to behave consistently even when no one is watching.

For example, no one wants to go to a music concert and hear the singer canceled due to a cold — even though they’re being authentic. Instead, the concertgoers want the experience they paid for with a professional who brings their best effort. “Professionals are consistent; authenticity is lazy,” Seth explained. And while it’s a bit controversial, it makes sense to bring your best version of yourself to the business above all else.

6. Start documenting and know it will most likely change. 

Seth is known for publishing daily blogs. He calls it a “practice” and has since reached an astounding 8,500 posts on his website. But how has Seth managed such an incredible feat? “Simply write,” he told us. And the same advice applies to SMBs documenting their business. 

According to Seth, the first step to documenting is learning how to write a recipe that eliminates any assumptions. For example, you must put the peanut butter on before the jelly (when making a PB&J), or the peanut butter will not spread properly. But if you assume the reader already knows that, you might end up with a terrible sandwich.

Then, it’s just a matter of writing out all your SOPs — and knowing that you’ll probably get it wrong. “You have to write it wrong so that people can give you feedback,” Seth told us. Then, it’s just a matter of updating your documentation. 

“[Documentation] needs to be done wrong, so it can be done right.” 

7. Tell your teams to break it, ask questions, and iterate. 

Seth is a big proponent of just starting, whether it’s writing or documenting. And that’s because it’s impossible to get anything done if you don’t begin. But how do you ensure that your team updates and improves your processes? Seth says by telling them to break it and ask questions. 

For example, the Sleepy’s Mattress owner used to call all 70 retail stores daily to ask employees what was wrong or not working. If the employee didn’t have an example, Mr. Sleepy would fire them. But if they had an issue to offer, he would fix it immediately and move on to the next one. 

“It’s challenging to say what could be better because it implies something could be better,” Seth explained. “But the alternative is that everything is perfect, and that can’t be true.” In other words, permit your employees to point out what’s wrong, proactively fix issues, and update the SOPs in your documentation to improve your business continuously.  

8. Let people show up as their whole selves.

Seth says that customers often choose smaller companies (over large corporations) for the human aspect of the culture. “The vast majority of your [employees] are not doing everything by the book every day,” he told us. “But that’s why people pick [your business].” And if you can cultivate that part of your culture, you can make deeper connections with your community. 

“Figure out how you can let someone bring their whole selves to work,” Seth explained. That way, they’re more likely to bring care and emotional labor to their job. And if you can cultivate that individuality, you can bet those employees will be missed when they’re gone.

9. Spam isn't marketing, and cold DMs aren't sales.

For Seth, selling is largely an effect of good marketing — not spamming or messaging customers until you get a response. But what exactly is good marketing? Seth states, “Marketing is making something people want to buy and talk about.” And that means you have to have a good product or service before reaching out to strangers on LinkedIn. 

“Job number one is [creating] a contagious, viral, and useful service or product that spreads without me having to call people on the phone,” Seth explained. Then, it’s about spreading relevant messages to the people who want to hear them (AKA, your target market). 

To get started with this type of bottom-up approach to marketing, Seth suggests the following books: “SPIN Selling” by Neil Rackham and “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play” by Mahan Khalsa.

10. Stop interviewing candidates.

Finally, Seth suggests dropping traditional interviews from your recruiting repertoire. And his reasoning? “All you’re looking for is [someone] who’s good at interviewing,” Seth told us — instead of looking for someone who’s good at the job.

“The best way [to interview candidates] is to work with them first,” Seth explained. And to do that, he suggests giving candidates a one-off, paid project to see their results and work style. “If someone is good when you’re working with them now, they’ll probably be good when you’re working with them later,” Seth concluded. 

Running a sustainable, successful SMB is not always (if ever) easy. But with Seth Godin’s back-to-basics and thought-provoking tips, you can implement some long-term plays today that lead to lasting business results. 

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Seth Godin Has 10 Thought-Provoking Tips for SMBs

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