Book Review: “This is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See”

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

By Seth Godin. Published by Penguin Books, Nov. 13, 2018.  267 pages. Hard Cover – $24

In a Nutshell: Obsessing on website hits, Facebook likes, and Twitter retweets is not the way to market. Effective marketing starts with simply helping people.

Who is it for? Business owners, marketing departments, self-employed, anyone that wants their work to matter.

Author Quote: “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.”

I’ve written business book reviews in this space for several years and I realize that the reviews tend to be more positive recommendations then scathing critiques. There is a reason for this. Books with a well-thought-out message and useful takeaways are preferred to books that we have to slog through and then wonder afterwards why we wasted our time.

I bring this up because Seth Godin’s latest book, “This is Marketing,” is one that I would recommend more than the majority of books I’ve read over the years. For those not familiar with Godin, he is the successful author of 18 books, a sought-after speaker and teacher. He’s revered enough to be inducted as a member of the Marketing Hall of Fame (I didn’t know such a thing existed, but it sounds credible).

In “This is Marketing,” Godin belittles the traditional marketing approach where marketers try to trick or force people to do things that they really don’t want to do. He points out that this is unique to marketing and that an accountant, for example, could never get away with such deception.

This marketing manipulation has gone on for years and recent gathering of personal information from online and social media platforms have added another layer of consumer weariness. Godin points out that the idea of finding as many people as possible to buy something is a disservice to customers. Instead, he recommends a more personal, human level approach.

Beginning with finding the people that will make up a small viable audience, Godin asks readers to answer the following questions of themselves and customers:

  1. My product is for people who believe ______.
  2. I will focus on people who want _______.
  3. I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get ________.

These questions turn the focus to identifying dedicated, like-minded people that you can share your remarkable wisdom with. This process both matches interests and passions with others that could be evangelists for your expertise.

For example: If you are a piano teacher in a medium-sized town, there are likely several piano lesson options for people within a 2-5 mile radius. The piano teacher can decide the customers to serve within certain parameters (cheap versus expensive, being a kind teacher versus more disciplined). Asking potential customers what they are seeking and knowing what the competition isn’t serving determines the market the piano instructor can work with.

For those that don’t like this starting-small idea, think of the musical “Hamilton.” Before it became popular, it was seen by only a few hundred people a night, then moved to a Broadway theatre where it was seen by only a few thousand people each night. Even with its financial success, “Hamilton” has been seen by less than one percent of the U.S. population. The point best made by Godin: “Our hits aren’t hits anymore…they are meaningful for a few and invisible to the rest.”

Realizing that you don’t have to be all things to all people makes it easier to do work that matters for people who really care. This book is chock-full of examples, strategies, and stories that drive home the broader points described here. Godin’s message goes a lot further than addressing marketing, providing a durable standard of valuable guidelines for business and personal interactions.

Chris Wendel is a Business Advisor with Northern Initiatives, a Community Development Financial institution based (CDFI) based in Marquette, Mich. Northern Initiatives provides money and know-how to businesses throughout Michigan. Wendel lives and works in Traverse City and can be reached at