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All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

Updated on October 3, 2011

About All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars is a book about the stories that people tell themselves and then believe. It's not really about lying, but rather about how authenticity is the best marketing of all.

Marketing guru Seth Godin, in typical pundit fashion, pokes fun at traditional advertisers' outdated methods of pushing their messages out to the masses. Godin argues that people have always communicated important ideas via stories, and they have always believed those stories.

People relate to stories. They are motivated and inspired by them, but only when they are given a story that is authentic and believable, a story that they can tell themselves over and over again and feel good about it.

With the advent of social media and web-based communication, stories have once again become the best way to advertise -- perhaps, the only way to do so in a marketplace that is now over-saturated with traditional advertising.

In All Marketers Are Liars, Seth Godin asks what kinds of stories you're telling with your marketing and whether or not people are actually believing them. Recently re-released with a new cover (indicating that marketers aren't liars, but rather storytellers) and preface, this book is just as relevant today as when it first came out.

Buy All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World
All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World

Advertising's fundamental theorem-that perception trumps reality-informs this dubious marketing primer. Journalist and marketing guru Godin, author of Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, contends that, in an age when consumers are motivated by irrational wants instead of objective needs and "there is almost no connection between what is actually there and what we believe," presenting stolid factual information about a product is a losing strategy. Instead, marketers should tell "great stories" about their products that pander to consumers' self-regard and worldview.


Book Excerpt - Be a Better Liar

From Chapter One of All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

I have no intention of telling you the truth. Instead I'm going to tell you a story. This is a story about why entrepreneurs must forsake any attempt to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and must instead focus on what people believe and then work to tell them stories that fit and enhance their worldview.

Make no mistake: This is not about tactics or hype or little things that might matter. This is a whole new way of doing business. It's a fundamental shift in the paradigm of how ideas spread. Either you're going to tell stories that spread, or you will become irrelevant.

In the beginning, there was the story. Before marketing, before shopping carts, and long before infomercials, people started telling stories to themselves and others. We noticed things. We noticed that the sun rose every morning, and we invented a story about Helios and his chariot. People got sick, and we made up stories about humors and bloodletting and we sent them to the barber to get well.

We tell ourselves stories because we're superstitious. Stories are shortcuts we use because we're too overwhelmed by data. The stories we tell ourselves are lies that make it easier to live in a complicated world. We tell stories about products, services, job seekers, the New York Yankees, and sometimes even the weather.

We tell stories to our spouses, our friends, our employees, and customers. Most of all, we tell stories to ourselves. We tell ourselves stories that can't possibly be true, but believing those stories allows us to function. We know we're not telling ourselves the whole truth, but it works, so we embrace it.

If we tell ourselves lies because these stories make it easier to get by, then marketers are a special kind of liar. Marketers didn't invent storytelling. They just perfected it. Marketers lie to consumers because consumers demand it. It's your prospects who will walk away if you obsess about the last sigma of this or that without bothering to tell an interesting story about it.

Some marketers do it well. Others are pretty bad at it. Sometimes the stories help people get more done, enjoy life more, and even live longer. At other times, when the story isn't sufficiently authentic, it doesn't work for anyone. Humans are too smart to be fooled for long by a Potemkin village, a façade that pretends to be one thing and turns out to be another. Sure, you can fool some people once or twice, but this is the key lesson of the new marketing: Once fooled, a person will never repeat your story to someone else. If you are not authentic, you will get the benefit of only one sale, not 100. The cost of your inauthentic deception is just too high.

All Marketers Are Liars (Tell Stories)
All Marketers Are Liars (Tell Stories)

All Marketers Tell Stories

New Foreword for All Marketers Are Liars

You believe things that aren't true.

Let me say that a different way: many things that are true are true because you believe them.

The ideas in this book have elected a president, grown non-profit causes, created billionaires and fueled movements. They've also led to great jobs, fun dates and more than a few interactions that mattered.

I've seen this book in campaign headquarters and carried around at evangelical conferences. I've also gotten email from people who have used it in Japan and the UK and yes, Akron, Ohio. The ideas here work, because they are simple tools to understand what human beings do when they encounter you and your organization.

Here's the first half of the simple summary: We believe what we want to believe, and once we believe something, it becomes a self-fulfilling truth. (Jump ahead a few paragraphs to read the critical second part of this summary)

If you think that (more expensive) wine is better, then it is. If you think your new boss is going to be more effective, then she will be. If you love the way a car handles, then you're going to enjoy driving it.

That sounds so obvious, but if it is, why is it so ignored? Ignored by marketers, ignored by ordinarily rational consumers and ignored by our leaders.

Once we move beyond the simple satisfaction of needs, we move into the complex satisfaction of wants. And wants are hard to measure and difficult to understand. Which makes marketing the fascinating exercise it is.

Here's the second part of the summary: When you are busy telling stories to people who want to hear them, you'll be tempted to tell stories that just don't hold up. Lies. Deceptions.

This sort of storytelling used to work pretty well. Joe McCarthy became famous while lying about the "Communist threat." Bottled water companies made billions while lying about the purity of their product compared to tap water in the developed world.

The thing is, lying doesn't pay off any more. That's because when you fabricate a story that just doesn't hold up to scrutiny, you get caught. Fast.

So, it's tempting to put up a demagogue for Vice President, but it doesn't take long for the reality to catch up with the story. It's tempting to spin a tall tale about a piece of technology or a customer service policy, but once we see it in the wild, we talk about it and you whither away.

That's why I think this book is one of the most important I've ever written. It talks about two sides of a universal truth, one that has built every successful brand, organization and candidate, and one that we rarely have the words to describe.

Here are the questions I hope you'll ask (your boss, your colleagues, your clients) after you've read this book:

"What's your story?"

"Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?"

"Is it true?"

Every day, we see mammoth technology brands fail because they failed to ask and answer these questions. We see worthy candidates gain little attention, and flawed ones bite the dust. There are small businesses that are so focused on what they do that they forget to take the time to describe the story of why they do it. And on and on.

If what you're doing matters, really matters, then I hope you'll take the time to tell a story. A story that resonates and a story that can become true.

The irony is that I did a lousy job of telling a story about this book. The original cover seemed to be about lying and seemed to imply that my readers (marketers) were bad people. For people who bothered to read the book, they could see that this wasn't true, but by the time they opened the cover, it was too late. A story was already told. I had failed.

You don't get a second chance in publishing very often, and I'm thrilled that my publisher let me try a new cover, and triply thrilled that it worked. After all, you're reading this.

So, go tell a story. If it doesn't resonate, tell a different one. When you find a story that works, live that story, make it true, authentic and subject to scrutiny. All marketers are storytellers, only the losers are liars.

Video: Seth Godin Speaks at Google - Godin Talks About All Marketers Are Liars

Book Links - Linky Goodness to All Things Seth Godin

Read more stuff about Godin, marketing, stories, and ideas worth spreading.

Permission Marketing - Another Marketing Classic by Seth Godin

In Permission Marketing, author Seth Godin explains the idea of permission-based marketing, a concept that he and his colleagues at Yoyodyne codified.

Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers
Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers

Seth Godin, one of the world's foremost online promoters, offers his best advice for advertising in Permission Marketing. Godin argues that businesses can no longer rely solely on traditional forms of "interruption advertising" in magazines, mailings, or radio and television commercials. He writes that today consumers are bombarded by marketing messages almost everywhere they go. If you want to grab someone's attention, you first need to get his or her permission with some kind of bait--a free sample, a big discount, a contest, an 800 number, or even just an opinion survey. Once a customer volunteers his or her time, you're on your way to establishing a long-term relationship and making a sale. "By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing message," he writes. "It serves both customers and marketers in a symbiotic exchange."


Tribes by Seth Godin - We Need You to Lead Us

Read Seth's new bestselling book on leadership and innovative business.

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us
Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

Tribes is an essential read for the Seth Godin fan. If you like All Marketers Are Liars, you'll love Tribes.


Linchpin - Are You Indispensable?

Seth Godin's most recent book about being remarkable in the workplace.

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Seth Godin writes a manifesto for artists (and all workers, really) about what it means to be a "Purple Cow" for your organization.


Voting Time! - What's Your Favorite Marketing Book?

Vote for the best marketing book you've ever read.

All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works--and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All
All Marketers are Liars: The Underground Classic That Explains How Marketing Really Works--and Why Authenticity Is the Best Marketing of All

Seth Godin's three essential questions for every marketer: "What's you story?" "Will the people who need to hear this story believe it?" "Is it true?" All marketers tell stories. And if they do it right, we believe them. We believe that wine tastes better in a $20 glass than a $1 glass. We believe that an $80,000 Porsche is vastly superior to a $36,000 Volkswagen that's virtually the same car. We believe that $125 sneakers make our feet feel better--and look cooler--than a $25 brand. And believing it makes it true. As Seth Godin showed in this controversial book, great marketers don't talk about features or even benefits. Instead, they tell a story--a story we want to believe, whether it's factual or not. In a world where most people have an infinite number of choices and no time to make them, every organization is a marketer, and all marketing is about telling stories. Marketers succeed when they tell us a story that fits our worldview, a story that we intuitively embrace and then share with our friends. Think of the Dyson vacuum cleaner, or Fiji water or the iPod. But beware: If your stories are inauthentic, you cross the line from fib to fraud. Marketers fail when they are selfish and scurrilous, when they abuse the tools of their trade and make the world worse. That's a lesson learned the hard way by telemarketers, cigarette companies, and sleazy politicians. But for the rest of us, it's time to embrace the power of the story. As Godin writes, "Stories make it easier to understand the world. Stories are the only way we know to spread an idea. Marketers didn't invent storytelling. They just perfected it."


More on All Marketers Are Liars - Articles & Blog Posts About the Stories We Tell

Here is a list of links to articles and blog posts about the marketing stories we tell -- and the ones we believe ourselves.

List your thoughts on marketing, stories, and lies. Do they work? What makes a believable story?

Are You a Liar? - What was the best story you ever told?

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    • javr profile image

      javr 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I don't think I would buy his books anymore due to the Squidoo collapse.

    • profile image

      neujunior 5 years ago

      I hate liars... liars go to hell.... ceramic straighteners

    • profile image

      neujunior 5 years ago

      I really hate liars... liars go to hell.... ceramic straighteners

    • profile image

      neujunior 5 years ago

      These sites would give an example on how marketers create value for customers and build strong customer relationships, in order to capture value from customers in return,

      dine out Vancouver,symptom checker

      and ceramic straighteners.

    • profile image

      jayadev9 5 years ago


      If you own a business, chances are that you have invested a lot of your precious time and hard-earned dollars in making it successful. But even if you have built your business from a two person operation into one that employs 200, it is never large enough to avoid mistakes that could lead to lawsuits. No business is invincible. The only way to make sure that your business will continue to grow and succeed it to insure it.

      business owners policy

    • profile image

      abrahamgpg 5 years ago

      I own this book and learned a lot about marketing. It's a great read.

      To tell the truth, it's not about not tell the truth. It's more about telling the truth in such a way that people will be compelled to buy your product even if they don't need it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      It's not about lying, but more about thinking outside the box! Those who think outside the box are the people that are not afraid to take chances!

      These people are called successful!!

    • jeffgoins profile image

      jeffgoins 7 years ago

      @jonnnyd23: thanks for the comment!

    • jonnnyd23 profile image

      jonnnyd23 7 years ago

      I'm not much of a liar. I think I'm more like the type of guy that searches for the truth, I try to uncover lies. I guess you can say I want to be trusted, with out having to lie to myself or others in the process. I thoroughly enjoy your expression on "psychological marketing" as I like to call it, it's very creative and seems to be pretty effective. Telling the targeted audience what they want to hear makes a story more believable of course, it caters to the stories they have already put together in their own little world. It seems people want their ideas and stories that they have manufactured to be true and confirmed by others than themselves. They want to feel like they are being understood and agreed upon to make them feel better, no matter how outrageous their ideas, lies, or stories are. Most people will search out this type of confirmation, if you give it to them they will spread the word with other like minded people.