Seth Godin on marketing in the time of corona

Seth Godin on marketing in the time of corona

I was supposed to interview Seth Godin in his New York office on March 18. But the coronavirus had other plans. So I decided to touch on the burning issue of the day during our video call via Zoom, and at the same time managed to peek into the soul of the American marketing guru.

"This crisis could bring some real benefits within a few weeks or months"

Long over short term

“These are crazy times,” says Godin. “What really strikes me in a crisis period like this is how the short term still overshadows the long term. We have trained everyone in the world to deal with change much more rapidly than they ever did before. Breaking news used to be a week, then tomorrow, and now it’s every two minutes.”

“People are too influenced by what they have read in the media in the past ten minutes or the COVID-19 marketing spam that all these companies are exploiting. If everyone used the time that has been freed up to brush up on their skills instead of studying the current infection rate, this crisis could bring some real benefits within a few weeks or months. But the problem is that we are blindly focusing on the ‘now’.”

Still, Godin stays positive, remarking that consumers are constantly becoming more critical. “Don’t let short term marketers hijack your attention, make conscious choices,” he says. “You aren’t obliged to give in to all those direct impulses. A whole generation is starting to wake up and realize they don’t have to read their email or follow a company on Twitter or believe them.”

"People often have what they need, but seldom what they actually want"

Reacting, responding and initiating

If there is one thing the business world forgets, according to Godin it is this: people often have what they need, but seldom what they actually want. “Just because you have the money to interrupt somebody, doesn’t mean they want to hear from you,” he states firmly. “I believe that if you profile yourself more as a helping hand and not so much as a sales employee, you will get a lot in return.”

Seth Godin wants to start by setting an example for others. The fees the author had already received for events and conferences that were suddenly canceled, he has repaid on his own initiative. He has also founded free virtual co-working space Akimbo, which already has over a thousand members.

“When society is hit by a crisis, you can do three things: react, respond or initiate. Reacting means a negative reaction to external input, such as news or medication, for example. Responding means that you respond to an external signal to make it better, and initiating means helping even if nobody asked you to.

This initiative-taking is what we should be doing, and not just when we are facing an apocalyptic virus. At the end of the day, have you only checked emails and read everything you can on Facebook? Or did you make a contribution? Because the money will take care of itself if you are a good citizen.”

“The American economist Milton Friedman has been dead for a while, but he was convinced of the importance of money. He was wrong when he was alive, and he’s wrong now. Our job is not to make the most money, our job is to make the biggest difference.”

"The trick is to stay resilient. I do that by keeping a level head"

The importance of rationality

Perhaps easy to say for someone who has already earned his stripes, though Godin doesn’t seem to suffer from an inflated ego at all. “I let myself down every day,” he confesses. “But beating myself up only goes so far. The trick is to stay resilient. I do that by keeping a level head. If you think and act rationally, you are more able to acknowledge that you’re wrong.”

“I like asking people: ‘teach me why I’m wrong, I would love to change my mind.’ And I can recommend that mindset to everyone, because it gives you direction and helps you evolve. In other words, it feels like a compass, which is way more useful than a map.

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