Seth Godin: 10 lessons for marketing in the new normal

By Lisa Khatri, Brand Experience & Research Lead, Qualtrics

Possibility is where you find it. We each have more to offer than the world expects. And growth is something we’re capable of, as soon as we’re committed to seeing what we can contribute.”

This quote from the world renowned Seth Godin is a timely and inspiring reminder as businesses and economies begin to reopen and work to understand how consumer behaviours, attitudes, and preferences have changed forever.

Yes. Most of what we knew about our customers has changed at an unprecedented rate. But brands still have an important role. The new challenge is finding your role and purpose in this new reality.

Brand, marketing, and customer experience departments are fundamental to helping businesses discover the opportunity modern marketplaces present. And with good reason – Qualtrics research shows demonstrating a customer and employee first mindset is the top behaviour driving brand trust right now. This reality means businesses that use tools like Qualtrics to listen to, understand, and act on the needs of customers, employees, and the wider market have a distinct competitive advantage. 

Elsewhere, studies show organisations that increased marketing spend during past recessions typically experienced higher sales, market share, or earnings during or after the downturn.

To help you make sense of this new reality and find your competitive advantage, Qualtrics provided an exclusive opportunity to pick Seth Godin’s mind on the challenges you are facing.

Here’s the top 10 lessons captured during the engaging and interactive hour-long chat with one of the world’s smartest minds in business.

1 – Marketing is more than advertising – it’s every experience your business delivers

While Godin agrees that for 50 years marketing and advertising were the same thing, in today’s digital and connected world they are now far apart.
The difference, Godin says, is one is earned attention (marketing) and the other bought (advertising). And while both are important, advertising is not the right answer for everyone at this moment.

“Marketing is everything – it’s how you answer the phone, the prices you charge, what you do for your employees, your ability to exceed expectations, and much more. The marketers job in the new normal is to make the organisation work for its customers. That requires you to have a say and a critical input,” says Godin.

2 – Marketing isn’t a cost centre – it’s the future

There is a perception among many brands that the marketing department is a cost centre. It’s a notion Godin believes the industry needs to quickly dispel.
“Marketing is gutsy decision making and free. It’s everything about what your business stands for, and how it shows up in the market.”

With budgets limited, Godin recommends businesses focus resources on reaching their core audience of fans – what he calls the smallest viable market – and leveraging the powerful word of mouth marketing and influence this will bring.

“Invest your budget into turning your smallest viable market into your marketing department. That’s the future. That is how every successful brand is built.”

3 – Leadership is fundamental to change

A common topic Godin revisits throughout all his work is the importance of leadership. It’s a trait he says is central to navigating and finding opportunity.

“Your defining moment is whenever you decide it is, and you get a new chance to lead every day.”

He says if you want to be a world class marketer, you need to earn the privilege of leading.

“Brands can move forward with data, assertions and instinct, and by being super clear and focused on the change they want to make and the audience they want to reach. Making a series of assertions on what’s it for and what we’re offering is where the brands over the next decade will be built,” Godin added.

4 – It’s a perfect time to test and learn

There is no set roadmap for success in our new reality. The journey will be different for each organisation, and the ingredients for success will vary too. It’s one of the reasons why leadership is critical to moving forward.

As businesses learn to adapt, Godin encourages leaders to try new and different things.

“We have unlimited data to test and learn. Interact with customers one at a time if you can.”

Godin also offers some critical advice for securing senior support for this “test and learn” approach.

“Start at a small scale. Then repeat, repeat, repeat until you optimise it. Also, take responsibility for this approach – own it when it doesn’t work, and give away the credit to your bosses when it does.”

5 – Know who your advocates are and what drives their loyalty

One of the most frequent objectives presented to marketers is to grow market share by XX%.

But how do you do that effectively when you’re already the market leader? Or what can you do when you’re a start-up trying to find your place.

Godin’s advice for growing market share is simple: “be specific.”

Using the rise of Google and Zoom as inspiration, Godin points to the importance of building momentum.

“Find out who you need at this moment. And give them a reason to tell others.”

The learning is these brands have built success by satisfying the needs of their core target audience, who have then helped spread the word, influence others, and generate the momentum and interest required to effectively grow market share.

6 – Identify consumer priorities to balance the emotional and rational

Understanding how consumer needs, values and priorities are changing is critical if you’re taking a rational and emotional message to market.

By knowing how consumers are thinking and acting, you can align your brand to support their needs.

“This approach is specific. Consumers are making statements about what their priorities are,” says Godin.

The luxury goods sector is an example of this in action, where “luxury” simply means it costs more than the user needed to spend. Cost is one of its features, says Godin.

Brands need to identify consumer priorities and align their features accordingly.

7 – Find a way to be the only one

In today’s marketplaces brands are faced with a strange paradox – consumers are presented with more choice than ever before, but most have less money at their disposal.

“We’re entering a period where people don’t have surplus. This creates pressure to lower prices and get in a race to the bottom. And the problem with this is you might win, which is painful,” says Godin.

Instead of competing on price, Godin encourages brands to find a way to be the only one.

“When people can and want to buy your product they will. So invest in the things the people you want to reach are talking about. Make things that are an affordable luxury. Do it with confidence, empathy, and enthusiasm.”

Godin encourages brands to remember the resilience and adaptability of humans for their inspiration.

“Humans are resilient about how they process information. For instance, every technological change we’ve ever experienced was meant to be the last one – from the impact of on-demand video right up to email. This is never the case.

“People with resources are willing to spend, and those that can are. The diversion brands create is where surplus is spent – and as humans we want to feel connected and diverted,” added Godin.

8 – Find new metrics to measure

When it comes to measurement, Godin urges a word of caution: “Just because something is easier to measure doesn’t make it important.”

Rather than pointing to a common measurement system, Godin encourages marketers to find a metric that works for them.

“You can’t pick the same metric as your competition. After all, everyone has effort. What’s your moneyball, and how can you make it work for you?” asks Godin.

To prove his point, Godin outlines how some large retail brands have been able to go above and beyond using an unconventional approach to metrics.

9 – Show people the impact of change

If marketing is everything your business does, how do you ensure teams across the organisation – from finance through to maintenance – live the customer-obsessed values and mindset you preach?

The key to overcoming this challenge is using frontline feedback, which helps everyone understand the important role they have to play.

Godin encourages brands to make videos of people using the different platforms in the business – such as finance systems and website navigation – and then showing them to the teams responsible.

“People are eager to make problems go away, which is why you start to see things change,” says Godin.

10 – Show up as a human

As the world around us continues to change, the way you position your brand and the promises you make will have to evolve too.

But simply saying you’re repositioning your brand for our new reality won’t do. You have to demonstrate it too.

Godin believes one of the changes we’ll see as a result of COVID-19 and the subsequent economic uncertainty is a slowing down of consumption. It means we’ll take more care in the brand promises we believe, and favour those taking meaningful action.

“Human insights and human activity is a great opportunity to do something,” says Godin.

For brands looking to successfully reposition themselves, Godin warns against moving to the centre and trying to be something to everybody.

“Too often when companies get big they think the best way is to move to the centre. This doesn’t work – it’s too cut throat.

“You grow by positioning to a corner, where you have unlimited room to expand into,” says Godin.

For more information on how Qualtrics can help you continually understand today’s rapidly changing world and identify your competitive advantage in it visit