Seth Godin is back.
We begin with the story of Ron Johnson and how his disastrous stint as CEO of JC Penney almost destroyed the chain.
The reason behind this massive failure will give you the key to understanding your audience so you can change the World around you for the better.
listen to this episode
- What we can learn from the mistakes that Ron Johnson made
- Don’t use your own worldview in marketing as it will be very different from someone else’s worldview
- Acting as a customer to understand how and why people buy
- Why you should test changes in small areas before making big company-wide changes
- Applying the same strategy of watching people in stores to how people behave when they shop online
- Why you have to be specific about the worldview of the people you are seeking to reach and the change you seek to offer to get results
- What you can do to truly understand your audience and build empathy
- Try to imagine what it’s like to be the person you seek to serve
Louis: Bonjour , bonjour and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the no fluff, actionable marketing podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people, who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.
In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to understand your customers worldview, so you can connect with them and change the world around you. My guest today is among plenty of other stuff, the author of This Is Marketing, the host of the podcast Akimbo, and the brain behind the online workshop for higher-performing people, the altMBA. I think, by this stage, you’ve guessed who I have as a guest today, Seth Godin. So, Seth Godin, welcome aboard.
Seth: Well, thank you. Forgive me for not having a fake French accent, but it’s such a pleasure to talk to you.
Louis: So, in your book, This Is Marketing, you’re telling a interesting story of Ron Johnson who was hired as the CEO of JCPenney, right?
Louis: Which for people who are not living in the US, it’s an American department store chain. One of his first actions was to stop the constant stream of discounts and discounting and crazy sales that the store was pitching to customers. Can you tell me once he did that, what happened next?
Seth: Well, before I tell you that, let me tell you what JCPenney was like. JCPenney was one of the original discounters, the guy who started it, his name was actually Penney, his middle name was Cash. Their whole model was you could get pretty decent stuff for much less money. That was what they stood for. Over the years, they were always in the mall near Sears. They differentiated themselves from people like Sears by constantly having coupons and percentage sales and saving sales and clearance sales. Meaning, that shopping at JCPenney was more like a sport.
Okay. So with that background, Ron Johnson who invented the Apple store. Think about the Apple store, shows up at JCPenney as the most successful retailer of his generation, and instantly, gets rid of all the sales, all the discounts. He said, “This is disrespectful. We’re going to give you the dignity of knowing that when you shop at Penney’s, the price is the price. And you don’t have to worry that someone else is getting a better deal. You don’t have to worry that the price is going to be cheaper tomorrow. I’m treating you with respect.” Within a year, he had destroyed the entire chain, and it will never recover. People stopped shopping at JCPenney.
Louis: So, we are talking about a drop of 50% of sales, like drastic changes, right?
Seth: Yeah. Their stock went to almost as low as it can go. In the middle of the retail apocalypse, to lose that much momentum all at once, it’s over.
Louis: So you mentioned when you talk about the history of JCPenney a bit, you mentioned something interesting. You basically gave the answer to the question, which is going to JCPenney was like a sport. Like any sports, only a certain number of people would be interested in it or even play it. What was the sport you’re talking about here?
Seth: So, I believe the worldview of the typical JCPenney shopper. We know their demographics. Their demographics are household income of $20,000 to $50,000, at the bottom end of the American household income scale. We know that these are not people who are showing up at the Met museum Gala. They are scraping by. They’re not what a New Yorker would say is stylish, that what you’re able to buy there are clothes that aren’t particularly edgy, but, and it’s a big but, shopping at JCPenney represented a chance to beat the system, to put in the thing you have time, to get the thing you don’t have, which is status, that what you were able to do is if you were good at shopping at Penney’s, you could win. If you won, you would get something that was in short supply in your life was that feeling of superiority over the system.
Louis: Now it sounds very simple, very well summarized, and very basic in hindsight. Now, in the position of Ron, what would you have done differently to not make the same mistake?
Seth: I don’t know Ron well. I met him once. What he did was very common, which is assuming that other people see the world the way you see the world, that other people want what you want, that other people believe what you believe, that other people fear what you fear. When you’re a marketer, that is always a mistake because people don’t know what you know, they don’t see what you see, they don’t believe what you believe. If you can’t, then it, and that’s okay. Then you can’t market to them.
So, the job of the CEO of Penney was to understand what game the people who are coming are playing because no one needs what Penney is selling. They may want it, but they don’t need it because no one goes to JCPenney’s naked. They all have clothes when they get there. So it’s not like you’re selling water to thirsty people. You’re selling clothes to people who already have clothes. So, why should they shop with you? What’s the game? What’s the promise? Who is it for, and what’s it for? He made a guess and, I give him, big points for being bold, but he loses all the points for being wrong.
Louis: Let’s say you were hired at that time. What would you have done specifically, in your book, you’re talking about worldviews and statuses, super important concept that are very different than demographic, which are as you said, it could be salary range, it could be age, it could be where they live and whatnot? It’s much more buried, isn’t it, the worldview? It’s buried inside your head. It’s how you see yourself, how you want other people to perceive you, and all of that. How do you figure that out? Do you have to talk to people?
Seth: Okay. I want to go one step further. It’s not just buried, it is actually hiding. The way it hides is by asserting that it is true, that each of us walks around with a worldview that we are sure is true, that our belief about money, about strangers, about dark places, about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We think it’s true. So, that’s why it’s so hard to have a rational conversation with someone who’s an anti-vaxer because their worldview has surrounded them with enough narrative that they’re sure they’re right. It doesn’t matter that you have science. They don’t want to believe you because that’s who they are in that moment.
So, I know that my worldview is not the truth of the world. I know that when a fly, a housefly looks at the world, they see 164 images, and I only see one. Who’s right? We’re both right. So, with that said, the way you figure it out is, first of all, you watch. You watch what happens when someone visits a store. You watch what they talk about when they’re at the store. They’re not going to tell you how they see the world, but they will give it all away by the stories they tell. “Well, I need to go here instead of here.”
That when they’re talking to each other and tell each other these stories, people are signalling over and over again. What Tim Cook understood when he took over Apple right around the same time that Ron Johnson went to Penney’s is people don’t buy, not people, many people don’t buy Apple stuff because it’s better, they buy it because their status goes up. They wait in line because their status goes up. They feel good when other people see what’s in their hand.
So, Ron changed the company. Not one important innovation has happened since Tim Cook took over Apple not one. But what he did was make it the biggest most profitable luxury brand in history, leaving Louis Vuitton MH way behind in the dust because what Apple does is it uses a technology ratchet to turn a handle on status, on luxury. So, Tim understood it. All he had to do to understand it was watch what was happening in the Apple store.
Louis: So, you would go to the store, acts as a customer, and you would look at people buying, and you will look for patterns, perhaps. You would just observe what they do, what they don’t do. What type of things do you like to watch out for? What type of behaviors should people look into when they do such a thing, when they observe other people buying or going through a buying experience?
Seth: Okay. So, I had to get new glasses this morning because someone stole my glasses yesterday which is I don’t understand why someone would steal someone’s glasses.
Louis: Because it’s all about you, the purple glasses.
Seth: But they didn’t know it was me.
Louis: I don’t know.
Seth: They would just sit on a bench, and they were gone. Anyway, like Sadhika, the giant company that owns everything, also owns ProVision centers in the US. They make a fortune. So I’m walking into this place that sells sunglasses and regular glasses and does eye exams. From the minute I’m walking in, I’m trying to understand why are some things the way they are. So, for example, on the window is a typed sign that says Bathrooms for Customers Only, signed the management, in big letters.
Well, first, why is it signed the management? Who else is putting up a sign like this? I don’t know. But then, why is the owner annoyed? What happened that made the owner put on the door to his super high-profit establishment, the only sign in big letters saying Go Away? All right. So, when you walk in and you say, “Well, why is it that this store that extensively is trying to increase profits has it laid out this way? Why is this over here and this over here because if it’s working, there must be a reason, it didn’t work on me? What are they doing that makes it work on other people?” This language that’s in the form you have to fill out about contact lenses. Why is this language here? What kind of worldview would make this language effective? Or when you think about how institutions that have evolved over time like airports are arranged the way they are.
Part of it is an engineering systems thing, but most of it is a worldview thing. What are people looking for? Why do chiropractors’ offices look different than surgeons’ offices? There’s no functional reason why chiropractors offices in United States have fake wood paneling and shag carpet, and surgeons’ offices don’t. But there’s a worldview story being told. So, if you can’t explain why an evolved system is the way it is, you’re not seeing it. That’s the first step.
Then the second step, which would have been easy to do at Penney’s is to test it. Go to the Penney’s in Dallas, and change one quarter of the store just to see what happened. For example, one of the things you’ll notice at a lot of discount stores is that the T-shirts and the clothes that are on sale are not neatly folded. They’re all piled up in a pile. Now, if you’re making enough money paying somebody $15 an hour to fold all the T-shirts is not that hard. At the GAP, everything is folded. But at a discount store, nothing’s folded. That Old Navy lets piles of stuff happen because the worldview of the person you are seeking to engage with is, “I like buying clothes better when it feels like the store is in some sort of trouble, and I can take advantage of them.”
Louis: I can look at the pile of T-shirts and maybe grab the one in the middle, looking at the sticker. Maybe there will be one with a price tag that is lower than all of the others. Who knows, right? It’s like this-
Seth: Exactly. It’s like a grab back. Or if we think about the Ralph Lauren outlet stores. What most people don’t know is that Ralph Lauren makes more money from its outlet stores than from its regular stores. The stuff in the outlet store is not leftover from the regular store. It’s made special for the outlet store. Sometimes they’ll put a little sticker on it pointing to a defect that isn’t a defect. Because if you’re in the outlet store, and you’re seeing a sticker that points to nothing, you’re like, “Wow, they made a mistake.” Again, that fits your worldview.
Louis: So those two type of stores are for two different type of values. You have a worldview about an important “I want other people to feed on an important that I’m buying something expensive,” the other one would be, “I’m for bargain. I want to pick, I want to, as you said, beat the system and try to find something that no else would find, that I can find cheaper.”
So, to go back to what you said though, so you would observe people he would look how they behave and how they don’t behave, where they look, the way they look at the T-shirts, the way they behave, the way they talk to each other. Then you would test a different environment. As you said a quarter of the store in Dallas. Perhaps, for this one, Ron could have tried to neatly package and display the clothes like you would in an Apple store. Imagine an Apple store that would do clothes, you would have one T-shirt in the middle of the stand, and that’s it, right?
Louis: So they could have tried that. They would have seen straightaway that people are like, “No, it doesn’t fit. It doesn’t work.” The first person would grab the T-shirt, and then there would be no T-shirt left. How then do you apply this to the internet then? People buying online, people experiencing that online, you can’t really see how they behave [crosstalk 00:14:54] didn’t shop.
Seth: Of course, you can see more of how they behave. Are you kidding? First of all, please understand that every single click you make, everywhere you go is now recorded in a database. But more than that, there is now all the software that lets the marketer watch you while you’re shopping, watch how you use your mouse, watch you rage click on a button. You can get a report back that says 18% of the people who came to the site pressed on this click first, and then other people press on it. You are watching everything.
So, the direct marketer is busy moving tiny, little bits around to try to get a 3% boost for sure. The intuitive marketer can see how people are interacting and discover what are they seeking. So, for example, Kickstarter pages don’t look the same as Groupon pages, which don’t look the same as Patreon pages, which don’t look the same as the pages you’re going to buy something from Mercedes. It’s all bits, it’s all written in the same software, but they don’t look the same.
Netflix videos don’t look like YouTube videos. Some podcasts don’t sound like other podcasts. Why is it that so many of the top hundred podcasts until last year all sounded like NPR shows? There are two reasons for this. One, most of them are made by people who left NPR; but two, most of them are listened to by people who used to listen to NPR because those were the first people who listened to podcasts. So, you had to match what they expected if you wanted people to listen.
So again, we’re stuck in the same cycle. Eventually, it changes. Now, we can see which parts work and which ones don’t. What I’m challenging people to do is, yeah, if you can use data, data, data, please do. If you’re serving people, not doing it to them but serving them but more important, the leap will come from your empathy, the practical empathy, of seeing other people for who they are and what they want.
Louis: So beyond looking at people and behaving on what they are doing, do you have any other methods, any things that you would recommend the people listening to this podcast or watching this video to do to build up, empathy, practically speaking, right, because I think people listening to this podcast, in particular, have a worldview that is quite strong about the fact that most marketing is bullshit and they want to understand people and they want to serve them right. Now, they might be struggling a bit with the actionable, and that they want you tell them. Tell me how to do it a bit. Guide me through this journey.
Seth: Okay. So, there is no map. But what we can say is this, all marketing creates change. If you don’t create change, you’re not marketing. You’re just in operations. That the person who has a drinking fountain and someone’s thirsty, so they go and they drink from the drinking fountain is satisfying a need for sure but they’re not making change happen, they don’t have an agenda. But marketing, if you’re going to show up, if you’re going to spend the time and spend the money, you’re a change maker.
So, we begin with what change are you seeking to make. Then we have to say, and “Who are you trying to change? Are you trying to change lonely people into connected people? Are you trying to change powerful people into kinder people? Are you trying to change people who see themselves at one rung of status into people who have a higher status?” So we begin with what change.
Then the second half of that is who are you trying to change? If you can’t be specific about the worldview of the people you are seeking to reach and the change you seek to offer, you have no prayer of succeeding. So the first tactic is to seek the smallest viable audience, the smallest group of people who could support you and only serve them and only change them. Point to any successful Kickstarter, and I’ll explain how they did it. Point to any brand of the last 10 years, and I’ll explain how they did it. They all started with the smallest viable audience and said, “If you are like this, but you want to get like that, we can help you get there.” That’s the hard part. The hard part is most people don’t have the courage or the kindness to say, “I’m here to make things better, I want to change you.”
Louis: That sounds, obviously, really good. We’ve talked about that in the last conversation together about, specifically, the tiniest audience possible and how to select it. Now let’s say, you are not part of the audience you want to change. Let’s say you’re a marketer for a company that does not fit your worldview, perhaps, or that doesn’t serve the customers, customers that fit your profile. You understand where they are, you understand where they want to go, potentially, but you don’t necessarily…. you maybe struggle to understand their worldview. Apart from looking at what they do, what else can you do to truly understand them, to truly build empathy?
Seth: You can try. That’s all. You can try, and that’s what’s missing. So, my dad was a volunteer for the United Way, which is a big charity in the US. He was good at fundraising. Most people, who are professional fundraisers, go to meet a millionaire, a multimillionaire, and in their heads, they’re saying, “I would never give $10,000 to this charity. If I had $10,000 more, I’d pay off my student loan.” They’re missing empathy because they’re unable to say, “Wait a minute. If I had $10 million in the bank, I wouldn’t have a student loan. I have $10,000 extra. What’s the best thing I can buy with $10,000? It turns out, buying a table at this gala is the single best thing I can do with $10,000 because it’s worth $20,000 to me in status and companionship to be there.”
So, you the marketer who’s selling the table for $10,000 can’t say, “I would never buy this,” which is what most marketers do, which is why they’re lousy at their job. Instead, you say, “For the kind of person who believes what this person believes, they’re going to like this story.” If you can’t tell me the math about what you’re doing, then I don’t believe that you’ve done the hard work of becoming a marketer.
Louis: So, when you say we try it, it’s actually, you need to try to literally put yourself in their shoes. You need to try to imagine what it’s like to be the person you seek to serve.
Seth: Yes. I can’t imagine what it is to be you, but I know enough about playing games that if this was poker, and you had a Jack and a Queen, and a King, I could assert that there are certain things you would trade for an Ace because someone who has these things might want that. That’s different than the impossible empathy of actually being you.
Louis: Apart from looking at people, one thing that I’ve done recently that worked really well is actually talking to people, interviewing them, asking them questions, making them talk, and using a journalist that was skills where you know that the first answer they’re going to give you is BS, but the second one is interesting. I’m curious to know, have you ever use this method in your marketing. Is there a question you like to ask people to understand them better, to understand their worldview?
Seth: That’s not how I do it. That’s how some people do it, and I have no problem with them doing it that way. My method is more passive. I’m just watching the puzzle mostly.
Louis: I think you’re lucky because, obviously, you have years and years of experience in marketing. You understand it’s so clearly that you can explain it very simply to people. Your book, This Is Marketing is a testament to that. The way you’re able to list out all of the key things people need to watch out for, the worldviews, the fears, the statuses and all of that. You have those lists of things that you need to watch out for when it comes to statuses and emotions. But for others, it’s clearly more difficult to truly empathize, the way you’ve done. At the start of your career, do you feel you had the same level of passive empathy you have now, or do you feel this is something that needs to be built over time?
Seth: Well, I have failed more than almost anyone I know as a marketer. So I can give you endless examples, here’s a couple. When I was in college, I decided to sell fine art posters out on the quad to new freshmen. So, here was my thinking, “New freshmen don’t have anything on the wall, they need to put something on the wall. New freshmen at this college have good taste. New freshmen at this college will want a sophisticated piece of art to put on the wall for a reasonable price. If they had access to that work, they would buy it.” So I schlept $10,000 worth of posters to school and sold none of them. Why did I sell none of them?
Well, it turns out that new freshmen care very much about fitting in and identifying themselves to others. They care about affiliation and they care about their status in their circle, and putting up a challenging piece of work by Robert Motherwell or Jackson Pollock did not do any of those things for them. On the other hand, putting up a picture of Picasso’s flowers, that was easy because it was trite. Trite was the symbol that people were looking for. There’s no judgment in my word trite. I was wrong. I thought people wanted sophistication when what they really wanted was a label. So, that’s one example.
Second example. When I was at Spinnaker software, I launched a line of computer adventure games based on science fiction novels. So I got to work with Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton, my heroes. Once it was time to launch the software, I said, “I know, science fiction conventions, because the people who go to science fiction conventions, like science fiction. Let’s go launch our product there.” What I discovered was that I was wrong again because the people who are going to science fiction conventions didn’t like computers in 1983, amazingly; and number two, even more important that people go to science fiction conventions in 1983 didn’t have any friends. They didn’t want to talk to other people. They were solo. It was between them and Captain Kirk. It wasn’t, “How do I build a circle?”
That changed. San Diego Comic-Con change the whole comic science fiction thing into a group activity. I was wrong about the worldview of those people. I wasted months of my time hanging out with the wrong people. So, those are just two of a hundred examples I could give you of you show up in the wrong place and say, “Oh, I see how the system works. This system is not going to work for what I am here to offer.”
Louis: What it sounds like is throughout those experience and those failures, but more importantly throughout the fact that you’ve tried things, you’ve put things out there, you’ve got response or no response or a different response you expected, you learned a lot from that, and you were able to extract the key learning to apply them going forward.
Seth: Right. Exactly because I’ve done it more than most people. The only way to learn this is to keep doing it.
Louis: So, this is what we-
Seth: Internet makes it cheaper and faster and easier to do it than ever before.
Louis: So, this is what we need to tell you if you’re listening to this podcast right now. If you’re on the fence, you’re not to share, just ship, right? Ship this thing you want to ship, get the feedback from those people, see how they behave, see how they buy, whether they buy or they don’t, whether they tell you, the question they ask you, the objections they have, the fears they might share with you. Learn from that and do it better the next time and never stop.
Seth: Right, because you’re just trying to change things for the better. You’re not doing this selfishly. The boat is sinking and you have a life raft. Who wants one? If you’re so selfish, you don’t want to offer life rafts to people, then I can’t help you. If you view your work as a positive contribution on the journey that people are on, then don’t be selfish, don’t hold it back.
Louis: The purpose of marketing for you then is this kind of generous act of helping people out, figure out their problem, solving them. Would you say that this is the right definition, the right purpose?
Seth: Right. Because we don’t have the power to do things to people against their will. Some marketers do. If you own a payday loan company, you are dealing with people who are desperate. You probably don’t have a lot of competition in your neighborhood. So, you’re ripping people off right and left when it would be far better if you can help people save a little bit so they didn’t have to pay a premium to cash their check. So, I don’t spend a lot of time with payday loan people. But the marketers who are making things better, the ones who are trying to get the last people who haven’t had a polio vaccine to get a polio vaccine, so we can eradicate polio, I really hope they start marketing better.
Louis: So let’s talk about something that I’ve actually struggled to find materials about from you that are linked to the purpose that I just asked you. So systems and systems thinking. In systems, you have a few things that work together, you have a purpose. Why is the system existing? You have the elements that are part of the system and you have the entire connection between the different elements, and then you have a flow of things going out, right?
Louis: How does system thinking impact the work you do as a marketer and impact marketers in general? How do you view this topic?
Seth: Okay. So, I’m trained as an engineer from college. I’ve been seeing systems my whole life without realizing it. I don’t have an eloquent half-hour long pitch about how systems has worked, but I can give you some examples. If you go ice skating, and you’re able to skate seven miles an hour, which is pretty fast, it might be because the ice is super flat and smooth, and has just recently been cleaned by Zamboni. It might be that there aren’t a lot of other people on the ice in your way. It might be that you just had your blades sharpened. It might be that you’ve worked out a lot, or it might be you have a lot of skill in skating. So, there’s five different things that could affect how fast you’re going, if you go skating.
But in our culture, if you’re not skating well, most people do one of two things. One, go out and buy a new pair of skates; or two, blame the fact that there are a lot of people on the ice. I think what we need to do is look at the system itself. If you want to go fast. Don’t skate somewhere where there are a lot of people. That’s your choice. If you want to skate fast on a regular basis, invest in a Zamboni machine. Levy a tax so everyone pays for the Zamboni machine. So now, everyone can go faster or train the other skaters to not skate in random directions, but to skate in sync.
So, there are all these pieces. But too often, people trying to make change, forget to look at the system. So, we say all these eight-year-olds don’t know any math. Well, it might be because the teacher they had last week wasn’t very good, but it’s probably having to do with something that happened in their house when they were one-year-old. So, how are we going to create a system that’s going to put the right energy into education so that over time, we get the mathematicians we need. If you’re frustrated at how your marketing is working, it might be you’re not working hard enough, but it’s probably that you’re in the wrong system, or you haven’t changed the system.
Louis: The interesting thing about system thinking in general and as applied to marketing is it’s actually incredibly difficult to change a system or an output by just changing the elements in it. So, let’s say you’re a company, like JCPenney to talk about the example we took earlier. You have 50 employees, let’s say, and you want to change everything, and you want to make sure that the sales go up, you used to fire everyone, you hire 50 other people. It’s actually unlikely that anything will change, right?
Louis: Very much like our body. Our cells are not going to say something stupid because I don’t know the number, but our cells change every x number of days, entirely, until your body is different than it was two years ago, entirely. Yet we seem to function pretty well. So, that’s the thinking there. What’s interesting is, however, if you want to change the outcome, and if you want to change the system and make it work better, you can change its purpose. Apparently, that’s much more powerful. This is why I love your work so much is the fact that you question the purpose by saying that marketing is not about making a quick buck or growth hacking your way. This isn’t the purpose of marketing. The purpose of marketing is to serve people and help them solve the problem.
So, this is what I’m trying to do with this podcast. What would you say when it comes to that part of the system thinking? How would you try to convince people who are with this purpose of the quick buck, the quick short term, matching our targets, nothing else matters type of thinking? How do you challenge them to change their purpose?
Seth: I don’t think those people want to change their purpose. I think there’s a second group that’s sometimes swayed by that group. The selfish person is coming from a place of insufficiency. They are drowning. As a drowning person, it’s very hard to reason with them. So, what we have to do instead is shift the culture itself to make it ever harder for the medicine man, for the grifter, for the conman to make a living because it’s our culture that determines what’s important.
So if we think, for example, over the last 20 years, how our culture has shifted to somehow believe that rich people are smarter than everybody else. That didn’t used to be true. But that cultural decision means that someone who wants to be seen as high status, or successful, or a contributor now believes they have to be rich. We have to change that system if we want to get back to the point where we have poets and artists and teachers and coaches who are in it for reasons other than putting other people down.
So, what I’m trying to do with the marketing seminar, which is a seminar we run, with the workshops we are building, with the altMBA is put into the world. Now, we’re up to more than 10,000 people, who are succeeding because they can see, and who have a different goal because if I can get from 10,000 to 50,000, that’s a lot of role models. Each one of those role models now starts to spread the circle to the next circle, and this becomes a virtuous cycle. So, when we think about the Harvard Business School, which is less than 100 years old. The Harvard Business School changed the whole planet because it put people into a system at exactly the right moment. Class in 1950 something ended up becoming CEOs of 100 of the Fortune 500, that they then spread the idea, and then the status continued in the ratchet term. Is it because of one professor at Harvard in one class? No. Because you show up and you teach the others, and they tell the others.
Louis: That’s what you’re offering with all the work, the books you’ve been writing, and the workshops you’ve been organizing? Your hope is that by understanding the underlying problem of the system right now, which is, as you said, since 20 years, there is this thinking in our culture that the richer you are, the smarter you are. Therefore, when you’re a young marketer, when you want to make a living, you think, “This is it. I need to make more money. So therefore when I join a company, this is my only goal because I want to be perceived as smart, like everyone else. I don’t want to be in sales. I don’t want to be seen as someone who’s an idiot.”
But you can’t just talk to this person and say, “You shouldn’t think this way. This is wrong.” Instead, you think of the system as a whole and say, “Let’s change the reason why people think this way. Let’s involve and change some people, train them, teach them the right way of doing things, so that they can in return do it as well.”
Seth: Okay. But careful because there’s a meta thing here. I am not trying to change the worldview of people. If your worldview is “I admire people who are in the media,” I’m not changing that part of it. If your worldview as a employee is, “I respond to a strong, direct boss,” I can’t change that either. So, what you can do is show up for the people who are ready to hear the intervention you have and give them the tools to do their work with a different intervention for a different worldview because we have to go to where people are. We can’t make them come to us.
Louis: So, it’s practically impossible to change one’s worldview, is it?
Seth: Right. I think what changed this worldview is long-term culture, not an intervention from a marketer, not a single intervention. I don’t think that can work. Just look at how much trouble we’re having with the Paris accords, how much trouble we’re having persuading a certain group of people that we have to take action on the environment. We’re trying to change their worldview, and we’re failing because it’s the wrong pitch. The pitch to those people needs to be the single best way for Exxon to make more money is to get in front of solar. That’s the way to make the pitch.
Louis: You would consider the worldview, which is we need to make more and more money, and so far, [inaudible 00:37:39] have been the answer. Instead of saying, “You are wrong thinking you need to make more money, you actually do need to do less, but you need to invest in better energy,” you tell them, “Actually, you’re going to make even more money if you invest in solar, if you invest in renewable energy.”
Seth: Right. That’s what’s happening. We’re seeing it happen. If we look at how corporates have responded to the rise of authoritarian governments compared to what they did 80 years ago, in the 1940s, corporates were the first people to sign up for authoritarian governments because they thought that strong nationalism would help their business grow. Now, it’s their worldview. But now, multinational say the worst thing that could ever happen to them is there’s a war. “So, we’re not going to support people who are trying to divide us because it’s not good for business.”
It’s only happening because you know and understand their worldview, and you’re not trying to change it, you’re just slowly but surely, building up, the culture can change over time. You can’t just make a change as you say one market at a time, one thing.
You need to show up for years and years and years and years, and repeat the message, help people understand it, so they can spread it as well. That takes time. It sounds like a bit like, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, so please correct me if I’m wrong, what you’re trying to achieve with all the work you’re doing, you’re spreading as much as possible your views, reaching people who agree with you already, but then hoping that they will in return, help others.
Seth: That’s exactly right.
Okay. I think that’s a great way to end those two topics, I think. Thank you so much for going through this with me, the worldviews, the system thinking. I was super curious to hear you about the systems thinking theory because I couldn’t find anything on Google or anything. So, it’s probably the first time you’re talking about it publicly, which is great.
The last time we talked, I asked you three resources to recommend our listeners. You mentioned four, actually. You mentioned Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. You mentioned Ogilvy on advertising by David Ogilvy, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, and The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.
Now, I’m going to challenge you to find three other books or three other resources, three other podcast conferences outside, obviously, of This Is Marketing, The Marketing Workshop, altMBA, that you would recommend our listeners today.
Seth: Okay. So, one of my favorite podcasts ever made is no longer made, it’s called Mystery Show. There were only five episodes. Episode Three is the best one, so listen to that one. Second, it’s the single best episode of any podcast, other than the one you and I just had that I can think of. The second resource I’ll point out is the collected work of Zig Ziglar. You can start by looking on YouTube and hearing him talk about selling in the 1960s and 1970s. Z-I-G-L-A-R. Then the third one is a series of novels by Eliot Peper, P-E-P-E-R, that will help you see how some people are thinking and arguing about our digital future, and they’re fun, and they’re thrilling. The first book in the series is called Bandwidth.
Well, Seth, thanks for sharing those. Thanks once again for your time. Where can people connect with you and learn more from you? What work have you been doing recently you’d like to share with people?
Seth: Well, the new session of the Marketing Seminar is in June, so go to the marketingseminar.com. There are 7,000 blog posts at Seth’s Top blog. So, once you’ve read all of them, you should drop me a line.
Anything. Seth, once again, thank you so much.
Seth: This was fun. You’re good at this. Pleasure.