Marketing has shifted from a one-way flow of information to a two-way dialogue - an engaging conversation. It is now the marketer’s role to help people become who they want to be and build lasting relationships rather than just blasting a message out to anyone who is listening.

“Marketers make change. We change people from one emotional state to another. We take people on a journey; we help them become the person they’ve dreamed of becoming, a little bit at a time.”
- Seth Godin

For many years, marketers identified themselves as advertisers, responsible for promoting the company - broadcasting a message and convincing people to buy their brand. Whilst advertising is still an important part of marketing, the playing field has become much more complex.

From then to now

Marketing used to be a side effect. We had a factory, it was busy. We said to the marketing team, ‘here’s some money, go sell average stuff to average people’ - not true anymore. Marketing is the core of what we do. Marketing is the story you tell, who you’re telling it to, why people are going to buy. It’s the centre of the universe.

Before the digital age, people had more time to listen and fewer brands were vying for their attention. Trust was easier to build, and consumers didn’t have the same expectations that are now taken for granted (free 2-day delivery, for example - thanks, Amazon).

As a result, advertising was synonymous with marketing. Buying ads was fun and easy, reaching people was straightforward and purchasing advertising space generally resulted in more sales.

“The idea that you can buy enough gross rating points to make enough money to do it again - gone”

Fragmentation came with the arrival of search engines and social media. “The fact is that TV was a mass medium and the internet is a micro medium.” Unlike TV, you can’t buy all the ads on Facebook, and the idea of purchasing enough advertising space to be able to do it again has become a notion of the past.

In many ways, this shift can be likened to slicing up a pie. When mainstream media (TV, radio and newspaper) was the predominant way of reaching people, it was harder to be specific about who we were reaching. By contrast, the variety of targeting options that are now available is truly mind-boggling.

Marketing has shifted from a one-way flow of information to a two-way dialogue - an engaging conversation. It is now the marketer’s role to help people become who they want to be and build lasting relationships rather than just blasting a message out to anyone who is listening.

Modern marketing starts with working out who we are aiming to serve and discovering how we can make things better for them. Marketing has now crept into every aspect of the business world, from customer service to unboxing and everything in between.

“So pick your slice and measure what you need to measure. Don’t measure what doesn’t make any sense and realize what we are seeking as an asset is connection: attention, trust and connection. Not spam or interruption.”

Brand building vs. direct marketing

Brand marketing is culturally oriented, engages our creative brain and seeks to breathe life into the experiences that people have with our company. When done right, it creates a connection that delivers meaning to our audience in a way that resonates with their innate beliefs and desires.

If you’re doing brand marketing, it’s important to be very specific about who you are targeting, what you are offering and why - in other words, go niche or go home.

By contrast, direct marketing seeks to achieve results and ‘get the phone ringing’ with people who want to buy your offering. Direct marketing is action-oriented and should always be measured. If you’re doing direct marketing, make sure to measure all the relevant metrics and keep on the pulse of what’s happening.

If this distinction seems ambiguous to you, here’s a simple way of knowing if you have a brand: ask yourself, if you disappeared tomorrow, would people miss you?

The greatest brands evoke an emotional response and broadcast a distinct personality that can easily be understood. For example, if Nike decided to open a nightclub, you can probably imagine what it would look and feel like. But what if your bank or utilities provider opened a nightclub - would anyone care?

Breathing purpose into your brand

As marketers, our calling is to make a difference. A chance to make things better for those we seek to serve…Not for your own benefit, but because of what it can produce for others.

In many ways, the purpose of marketing has shifted from selling stuff to helping people to realize their innate desires and evoke a feeling of satisfaction. The information age has delivered us all the tools that we need to reach anyone on our radar. We are now in an era where our decisions are measured not only by the financial bottom line but also by the impact that our decisions have on our surroundings.

Marketers make change happen: for the smallest viable audience, and by delivering anticipated, personal, and relevant messages that people actually want to get.

Marketing in five steps

(courtesy of Seth Godin)

Step 1: Invent something that is worth making, with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about

“It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than it is to find customers for your products and services”

Creating something from nothing is hard. The path of least resistance is to take other people’s ideas that already work and using them as your building blocks to construct something new that fits within your audience’s belief systems.

Step 2: Design and build it in a way that a few people will particularly benefit from and care about

“When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone”

It is much easier and more effective to pick your audience and seek to delight them before spreading your message wider. After all, if you can’t impress a small niche, what makes you think that you’ll be able to achieve commercial success on a larger scale?

Step 3: Tell a story that matches the built-in narrative and dreams of that tiny group of people - the smallest viable market

Begin by understanding the people you are seeking to serve. What matters to them? Why do they do what they do? What are their greatest desires and problems?

By putting yourself in their shoes, you can weave an effective brand story that strikes a chord with your audience.

Step 4: This is what everyone gets excited about - spread the word

Make your offering easy to spread - keep it simple! Free ideas spread the easiest and are more effective at building trust. To effectively share your idea, it must travel by word of mouth. If your offer is not compelling enough for people to feel inclined to share with their friends, then go back to the drawing board and keep improving until it is.

Changing your vocabulary from “customers” to “students” can have a profound effect on your attitude and success as a marketer. Ask yourself who are your students and why are you educating them?

Step 5: Show up regularly, consistently and generously for years and years. Organize, lead and build confidence in the change you seek to make

Most people give up too soon. It is vital that you continually show up with frequency, reliability and dependability. Consistency builds trust and earns permission from your audience to show up again tomorrow.

Results take time, and brands need building. If you’re not getting the expected results now, keep going. Seth Godin sets a great example of consistency by publishing a blog every day. He now has over 7000 articles on his blog, and is the first result you will see if you search “Seth” into Google.

Building a community

Community is at the heart of human society. We identify with others who share the same interests and beliefs as us. As brand marketers, it is our role to be very clear about who we are serving and making sure that our offering fits the innate needs and desires of our community (rather than the other way around).

During the process of developing products, it is easy to go off track and add fancy features without asking the question ‘who is it for and is this actually what they want?’. Remember that your job is to serve, not to sell.

“Serve them, by offering something they do not want to live without. These early adopters, sneezers (those who spread the word), and hardcore fans can produce large amounts of change. Very few individuals will account for most of your success. Do whatever it takes to keep your most loyal fans happy.”

When you’re starting out, the idea of narrowing down your market might seem daunting. Seth Godin talks about the smallest viable audience as the best way to define, refine and grow your niche.

Smallest viable audience

“Finding the smallest viable audience to market may seem counterintuitive. However, if you can’t solve one smallest specific problem for the smallest viable audience, what makes you think you can solve a massive problem for millions of people?”

Even major companies like Airbnb and Facebook started as niche businesses that grew over time. Rather than dumbing down your product or service to try and please everyone, why not focus on solving one problem for a particular type of person? If you can please them enough to the point where they tell others, there is a good chance that your offering will be spread by word of mouth.

When you’re identifying the smallest viable audience, it’s important to think about not only their demographic characteristics (age, location, income, occupation etc.) but also their psychographic interests, beliefs and what makes them tick.

Here are three simple questions to help you gain a better understanding of your audience:

  • Who are they?
  • What are their underlying human desires?
  • How can you solve or fulfil those desires?

The more specific, connected and tighter the “us” you choose, the better. It can help to aim for early adopters and people who are open to trying new things (rather than adapters), as this will make it easier to convince them to give your offering a go.

“The best marketers are farmers, not hunters. Plant, tend, plow, fertilize, weed, repeat. Let someone else race after shiny objects.”

Empathy is key to understanding your audience. Listen to your group’s dreams, desires and fears, and focus on changing the culture of your tribe. Take note of their feedback and adapt your offering along the way until it is irresistible. Remember to remain focused on what actually matters to them, not what matters to you.

As you get better at solving problems over time, your reputation will spread and you can expand to other offerings that reach new audiences. Viral growth is produced through network effects. If every person tells two friends, it doesn’t take long for your ideas to be exposed to a large number of people. But people will only tell their friends if the idea is worth sharing in the first place. Here are two questions to ponder before putting your message out there:

  • What will I tell my friends?
  • Why will I tell them?

Effective communication

Before sharing your great idea with the world, it’s important to begin by clearly understanding what it is that you are actually sharing. What change are you trying to make? Who do you want to change? What promise can you make? What’s the purpose behind your actions?

A distinctive message

“Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t the features of your products that’ll decide if it sells or not. It isn’t even the beliefs that clients get. It is the preconceived views of your clients that dictates what they do, what they buy and whom they buy it off.”

To create a message that sells, you need to appeal to the narrative that your audience already believes to be true. People rarely believe what you tell them, but they do believe what they tell themselves. This is why it’s so important to have a detailed understanding of the views and internal conversation of the people you’re aiming to connect with.

A great way to do this is to find two attributes that matter to your audience and have been overlooked by competitors, then position your message at the extreme of those two attributes, in a place where there is little competition and you are the obvious choice.

Here’s a three-sentence marketing promise template that can be used to help gain a clear understanding of who you’re aiming to reach:

  • My product is for people who believe ___.
  • I will focus on people who want ___.
  • I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get ___.

Creating tension

“The heart and soul of a thriving enterprise is the irrational pursuit of becoming irresistible”

Creating tension is the key to becoming irresistible. Seth talks about creating tension and then relieving that tension within the context of what matters to customers. It’s not about building fear, but rather inciting a desire or craving, then offering the promise that we can get through that discomfort to reach the other side.

Tension motivates change. Every marketing offer presents an opportunity to change your status or personal narrative. Some people want to move up in status or change their narrative whilst others prefer to keep their story the same.

Paintvine is a classic example of creating tension through social proof. We use the Fomo app to show people visiting the website when tickets to an event are running low, recent purchases and customer feedback. These simple popups create tension by developing a craving for the experience that we have to offer and a sense of urgency to buy now.

The art of sharing our message in a way that creates tension and then relieves it is an important part of storytelling.


“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”
Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal

Ever since the beginning of recorded history, we have used stories to share knowledge, convey meaning and sell things. Because of this long-held affinity with storytelling, our brains are hardwired to love a good story. We crave narratives that take us on a journey and engage our imagination.

The best marketing stories speak to the preconceived beliefs that your customers already hold to be true. After all, why try to change what someone believes when you can simply fit within their existing views and framework?

The good news for marketers is that there’s a proven storytelling structure that works (also known as the Hero’s journey). In essence, it involves a beginning, a middle and an end:

  • The beginning shines light on the problem, frames it within a context that readers can understand and creates tension towards finding a solution.
  • The middle is where a solution is presented. An ideal solution will succinctly fix the customer’s problem in a way that resonates with their existing desires and beliefs.
  • The end is all about the results - what benefits does your customer get from the solution? How will their actions change the world? Why does your solution help them to solve their own issues?

When growing brands from a storytelling perspective, it’s important to remember that your customers are the heroes of your story, not you.

Some of the stories that you might tell include:

  • The story of self: Discussing how you transitioned from who you used to be into who you became.
  • The story of us: Why are we alike? Why should we care? Why is your story relevant to “us”?
  • The story of now: Enlists your tribe on the journey - the opportunity to provide the tension for all of us to move forward, together.

If you would like to learn more about using storytelling to connect with your audience, check out Donald Miller’s book, ‘Building a Storybrand’.

With great marketing comes great responsibility

Over the last 30 years, the role of marketing in business has shifted from being a side function (predominantly advertising) to an integral part of the organization which represents the heart and soul of any successful brand.

As marketers, it is our responsibility to share, teach and lead the way forward. When you fail to market your offering properly, you’re stealing the opportunity from someone who needs to learn from you, engage with you, or buy from you.

It is, therefore, more important now than ever before to get your marketing right. Without understanding what matters to your audience, having empathy for your customers and sincerely working to solve their problems, how can you expect to stay in business for the long run?