Your Customers Lie to Themselves All The Time

If you think you should advertise the features and benefits of your product, you're probably wrong. And All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin explains what to do instead.

I'm a big Seth Godin fan. Fanboy even, I admit. Purple Cow, The Dip and Linchpin were huge revelations for me. They explain certain phenomena every one of us should understand in this postindustrial economy. All Marketers Are Liars is different.

Post Industrial Marketing

Let me start with what's the same. The narrative style is similar to other books by Seth. By telling stories, by noticing subtle but powerful changes Godin explains current market realities.

If you still think you should advertise the features and benefits of using your product, you're most probably wrong. And this book is a must-read for you. It explains how the market shifted from fulfilling customers' needs to giving them things they want. Customers have overabundance of options to choose from. And they have everything they need. They're bombarded with thousands of marketing messages a day. You won't break through by yelling louder.

Remedy the book presents is telling stories. By matching the worldview of the customer with the narrative around your product or service you may get a chance of being noticed, being chosen and even perhaps being referred to another customer.

Book Content

The book consists of observations of current marketplace. They're enriched with stories of both successful and failed attempts at marketing a product or a service.

Seth said somewhere that almost every book could be abbreviated to just few pages without loosing any essential information. The only reason for them to be longer is that we as readers feel smarter when we read them. Perhaps also this longer medium gives a better chance to change the reader's point of view, due to longer exposure to the concepts in the book.

My impression after reading All Marketers Are Liars is that it could actually be a longer blog post. The main points are repeated and described from multiple angles. The stories used for illustration are interesting but they haven't shaken my view of the world.

Perhaps it's just me. I've been exposed to this kind of thinking by Seth and others for many years. If I read this book a decade ago, I would be in awe probably. But now, it's a little... meh.

Authentic Stories vs. Lies

There's a very subtle distinction in the book, between stories marketers tell customers and the stories customers tell themselves. On one hand the marketer needs to tell a story that's authentic, otherwise he'll soon be exposed as a fraud. On the other the customer, by telling himself a story, ultimately lies to himself.

Buying an expensive, limited edition of Pumas only makes sense, because the customer will tell herself a lie about how attractive and good looking she will be putting them on. This is not true of course, because those shoes aren't that great and don't have this kind of impact. But this lie works exactly because she believes she'll be more good looking. She will feel more confident, she'll walk differently, her posture will change to a more confident one so in the end she does look much better!

That's the placebo effect at play. This is what I knew before reading All Marketers Are Liars and I can't say the book has made me truly understand that. I can't say I understand how marketer should tell his story and how to provoke the consumer to tell himself the lie that works. I know it's not simple. I guess this storytelling done by brands needs to be really subtle. The story needs to be created by the customer and not dictated explicitly by the marketer.

So on one hand marketer has to tell an authentic story. On the other hand he cannot say explicitly the lie the customer needs to tell hiself. Confusing :/

Quotes & Book Notes

Below are the quotes that I found the most important. Some of them with my commentary or emphasis.

These Days We Satisfy Wants not Needs

Marketers profit because consumers buy what they want, not what they need. Needs are practical and objective, wants are irrational and subjective. And no matter what you sell - and whether you sell it to businesses or consumers - the path to profitable growth is in satisfying wants, not needs. (Of course, your product must really satisfy those wants, not just pretend to!)

Marketing Secret: Reality vs. Lies

Well there's a secret about marketing that this book is going to reveal to you. Once you know the secret, every successful company will look different. You'll understand (perhaps for the first time) that there is a complete disconnect between observable reality and the lies we tell ourselves. There is almost no connection between what is actually there and what we believe - whether you're talking about hospital cribs, soup, computers, people, cars or just about any product or service we buy at work or at home.

High Margin Winners vs. Struggling for Profits

The reason most of the people who well services and product to business are struggling with profit margins is they focus on the center of the curve, on making a better widget a little cheaper, they're stuck. The organizations that succeed realize that offering a remarkable product with a great story is more important and more profitable than doing what everyone else is doing just a bit better.

(...) Organizations that are going to be around tomorrow will be those that stop spending all their time dealing with the day-to-day crises of shipping stuff out the door or reacting to emergencies. Instead the new way of marketing will separate winners from losers.

(...) The winners will be those who figure it out.

Worldviews - Stories Customers Tell Themselves

The stories we tell will or will not be noticed by customers because of their worldview, the set of stories they already believe in. The most important are:

1. What Others Are Doing

The desire to do what the people we admire are doing is the glue that keeps our society together. It's the secret ingredient in every successful marketing venture as well.

2. Don't Fix It

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
This is the most frustrating worldview a marketer can face. You believe in your product, you know your product will help people, but people refuse to notice it, never mind purchase it.

Hint 1: To overcome this make the barrier of entry or onboarding extremely low. Then the fix part becomes frictionless.

Hint 2: Another way is to break the existing solution customers use now. Just like email "broke" fax.

3. Personal Sympathy

I like working with you.

This is an extremely good bias your customers may have. This may be expressed by subscribing to your email newsletter, by coming to your events, by coming back to buy more from you of course.

You're A Marketer, Whether You Know It or Not

Are you a marketer? I think you are. I think you have an idea you'd like to see spread. I think you'd like people to join your church, vote for your candidate, ask you out on a date or even offer you a a job.

If you've got employees, I bet you'd like them to do more of what you're hoping they'll do. If you're applying for a loan, I bet you're hoping you'll get it.

Every day all of us market. Some of us are really lousy at it, and worse, believe the reason for our failure is some sort of intrinsic inadequacy. It's not. You're just not good at telling stories. Yet.

The Most Powerful Weapon in the World

Marketing is so powerful today that marketers have a new kind of responsibility. A responsibility to both long term profits and to the long-term viability of their markets. If you make a fortune but end up killing people and needlessly draining our shared resources, that's neither ethically nor commercially smart, is it? Nuclear weapons have killed a tiny fraction of the number of people that unethical marketing has. It's time we realized that there may be no more powerful weapon on Earth.

Start at the Edges

You succeed by being an extremist in your storytelling, then gracefully moving your product or service to the middle so it becomes more palatable to audiences that are persuaded by their friends, not by you.

Some People Will Talk, Others Won't

People are not the same. Some people talk, others don't. And quite often, people with similar proclivities join together into populations. College students have more friends and talk with one another more than residents of nursing homes, for example.

Remember, the marketer tells a story. The consumer believes it and becomes a lie. And that lie can spread from person to person. Then and only then is the marketer going to succeed and will sales grow. Identifying segments that are more likely to embrace this process is an essential first step in telling your story.

4 Reasons of Product Failures

There are four reasons why your new release failed:

  1. No one noticed it.
  2. People noticed it but decided they didn't want to try it.
  3. People tried it but decided not to keep using it.
  4. People liked it but didn't tell their friends.

(...) Few products fail because they don't work as designed - if they were that bad, they wouldn't be shipped. I believe that most of the seeds of failure are planted long before your product is even manufactured. Marketing starts before the factory is involved. If you choose the wrong story or frame it the wrong way, you lose.

Remark This is why Lean Startup is so important. Because by starting with identifying a need, finding a market that has a problem and experimenting with ways to reach those customers, it does exactly that - starts with marketing in some sense.


They may allow you to break into the awareness of some, previously underserved segment of market. Examples: "socially conscious investing", "compassionate conservatism".