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At the last North America Customer Intelligence Summit, Vision Critical had the great honor of hosting a keynote talk by marketer and influencer Seth Godin. Whether it’s for his insights on the state of marketing or simply his thoughts on the human condition, most people in marketing have heard of, or follow, Godin’s work.


In his keynote, Godin focused on the fall of the assembly line system of marketing, on the real nature of human needs, and on the importance of building a community to ensure business success in the future. Here are some of the highlights of this inspiring talk.


The assembly line-style marketing is failing


Godin began his talk by addressing old, received ideas in the field of marketing and how these ideas are now obsolete in an interconnected world. “Spending time and money to get more than your fair share of average stuff for average people can’t possibly work, because attention is too precious,” he declared.


He described this as the factory mindset: a managed system to do the same thing over and over again with the goal of getting more: more shelf space, more attention, more sales. Companies trying to make things faster and more convenient are missing the point: after all, people don’t cross the street for something they don’t care about. With same-day drone delivery and “sort by price” options on websites, there is hardly any space left to compete on mass-market, average marketing techniques.


What the best marketers are doing, according to Godin, is turning old marketing on its head. “This is what revolutions do: they destroy the perfect and enable the impossible.” But what is the “impossible” in marketing?


This is what people really want


Before he tackled what the “impossible” really means, Godin set up a story using an old quote: “people don’t need a quarter inch bit, they need a quarter inch hole”. But that’s not the whole story. People need a quarter inch hole to install a shelf. People need a shelf to store all their clutter. People buy things because “they want to feel safe, settled, and important”.


In other words, most of the things people buy today are wants, not needs. They are wants tied to a person’s identity: they buy things because it says something about themselves. The brands you buy are linked to who you want to be: are you a Tiffany’s person or a diamond district person? The difference is in the story. People buy a diamond worth $1000 for six times that price to be part of a community, to be part of the story that Tiffany tells.


What should marketers do?


Godin’s message to marketers is clear: focus on community.


In North America, we live in such abundance that scarcity tactics do not work anymore. There are few things that are truly unique anymore; you can buy yoga pants from dozens of retailers or choose one of thousands of Android phones ever made. Products are not unique: people are.


The internet has given us a unique chance to get anything we need at the click of a button. But that’s not the true revolution. The true revolution is being able to find people who think like you wherever they are in the world. Our geographic limitations are being erased. Marketing is not for “everyone” anymore, but rather for “people like us”.


If your answers to the questions “who is it for?” and “what is it for” are vague, you are not doing your marketing work well. Your strategy should speak to people who share your values and your way of doing things. This is the only way to build a “tribe”: a group of people who have a shared sense of meaning and connection.


If your brand can create that kind of meaning and connection, you will see your customers speak up on your behalf. And that, Godin highlights, is the true revolution of 21st century marketing.

 Why you need to embrace new customer-centric strategies

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