All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low Trust World (2005)
Basically, Seth Godin suggests that there are three questions to ask, as a marketer.
“What’s your story?”
“Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?”
“Is it true?”
First question “What’s your story?”
There are small businesses that are so focused on what they do that they forget to take the time to describe the story of why they do it.
If what you’re doing matters, really matters, then I hope you’ll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.
What we do know (and what we talk about) is our story. Our story about why people use, recommend or are loyal to you and your products. Our story about the origin and the impact and the utility of what we buy.
Marketing is storytelling.
The story of your product, built into your product. The ad might be part of it, the copy might be part of it, but mostly, your product and your service and your people are all part of the story.
Tell it on purpose.
Second Question: “Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?”
Just to be clear…
The truth is elusive. No one knows the whole truth about anything. We certainly don’t know the truth about the things we buy and recommend and use.
You believe things that aren’t true.
Let me say that a different way: many things that are true are true because you believe them.
We believe what we want to believe, and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfilling truth.
If you think that (more expensive) wine is better, then it is. If you think your new boss is going to be more effective, then she will be. If you love the way a car handles, then you’re going to enjoy driving it.
That sounds so obvious, but if it is, why is it so ignored? Ignored by marketers, ignored by ordinarily rational consumers and ignored by our leaders.
Once we move beyond the simple satisfaction of needs, we move into the complex satisfaction of wants. And wants are hard to measure and difficult to understand. Which makes marketing the fascinating exercise it is.
Third question: Is it true?
When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you’ll be tempted to tell stories that just don’t hold up. Lies. Deceptions.
This sort of storytelling used to work pretty well. Joe McCarthy became famous while lying about the “Communist threat.” Bottled water companies made billions while lying about the purity of their product compared to tap water in the developed world.
The thing is, lying doesn’t pay off any more. That’s because when you fabricate a story that just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast.
So, it’s tempting to put up a demagogue for Vice President, but it doesn’t take long for the reality to catch up with the story. It’s tempting to spin a tall tale about a piece of technology or a customer service policy, but once we see it in the wild, we talk about it and you whither away.
If your stories are inauthentic, you cross the line from fib to fraud. Marketers fail when they are selfish and scurrilous, when they abuse the tools of their trade and make the world worse. That’s a lesson learned the hard way by telemarketers, cigarette companies, and sleazy politicians.
Godin himself has said….
“I wasn’t being completely truthful with you when I named this book. Marketers aren’t liars. They are just storytellers… I was trying to go to the edges. No one would hate a book called All Marketers Are Storytellers. No one would disagree with it. No one would challenge me on it. No one would talk about it.”
Godin is witty and his writing is compelling.
There is much to learn about marketing in All marketers are liars and subjects like framing, the attention economy, cognitive dissonance, and adoption curves, and, of course, marketing mindset.
He set out to “go to the edges”, cause hate, instigate disagreement. And perhaps he did.
The bottom line is that marketers were, and some continue to be, liars – to some extent. Storytelling allows us to stop that, and yet remain effective. As I wrote in this article , the brand story you tell is the brand you live, create, deliver.