Seth Godin on B2B Personalisation Perfection

If you happened to catch Seth Godin Dial Up, first up - you're welcome. Secondly, you would've heard all the latest insights into the personalisation space. Lovely stuff. 


If you missed it, don't worry. Please stop crying. We're going to give you a run down of all the top questions, and top answers, from the sesh. 

This jam-packed event took a deep dive into on B2B Personalisation Perfection i.e. The right experience, to the right audience, at the right time.

So, what does marketer, speaker, teacher, author, all-round great guy Seth Godin have to say?

What does he think about the challenges and opportunities of perfecting a personalisation strategy? What does he think of driving personalisation at scale? 

B2B Personalisation - The Right Experience, to The Right Audience, at The Right Time

With fast changing technology completely reshaping the marketing landscape, what does Seth see as his top three enduring principles? 

Well, despite any tech advances, he brands these factors as essential:

Number one: Attention is scarce. But attention gets more valuable when there's more noise. So it's all about talking to people with permission, who want to hear from you. Delivering anticipated personal and relevant messages will always become more valuable.

Number two: The most important marketing isn't about you talking to people, it's what people say to each other.

When you make something that is remarkable, and people remark on it, then your word spreads. 

Number three: Everything is made somewhere cheaper than you make it, the race to the bottom is not a race you want to win.

And it's not a race, you want to lose. Instead, you can make something that people would miss that they were gone. Something that gives them status, or affiliation, or taps into the way they see the world. 

Personalisation  Who's Doing it Well?

Personalised and personal are different things.

Nobody wants to be prodded over and over again, have their name said to them over and over again. Instead, the personal is what happens when you are seen for who you are, and what you're contributing.

It doesn't necessarily mean that your company is giving free stuff to your best customers. But it does mean that you understand that treating everybody the same means treating your best customers worse.

Basically, if you're treating everyone the same, you're treating the best clients worse than your average. 

Investing in the shiniest, most advanced systems in the world is worthless, if the people that you're trying to reach don't feel seen, Seth says. 

So, who's doing the personal successfully? Seth gives the example of two hotels. 

Think about every time you've been in a hotel and you get a little letter that they've left in your  room with a bottle of really cheap, sparkling wine. We all know that they're writing exactly the same letter to every single person. We know they're saying that to all the girls. 

That is completely different than what happens if, in the morning, the chambermaid says "I hope you found the gym okay last night, because I know that you are looking for it". One is personalised, the other is personal. 

Being more specific, Seth names Danny Meyer, the 'king' of personal hospitality in New York City. 

He runs a whole bunch of restaurants here, and they use computers to keep track. But the fact is that when the computer recognises that someone is in the building, the computer stops acting, and a person begins to act.

The problem with industrial systems is we try to make them fast and cheap. And what I'm begging people to do when you're dealing with humans, is make them slow and expensive.

Personalisation - When Does it Become Creepy?

"So here's the deal. Nobody cares about privacy. Because if you cared about privacy, you wouldn't have one of these," says Seth, referencing a mobile phone. 

What people care about is being surprised. That's what turns the personal into the creepy. 

Try to imagine 20 years ago, walking into a store in the mall. And having the person waiting on you say, Hi, I see that you've mentioned this store in the last 10 minutes. I know that this is your size. And I know this is what you're trying on, can I show you this, you would call the police. And yet, that's what happens all the time.

Now, when I go to an independent bookstore here in the US, I'm frustrated because I want them to rearrange the whole store every time I walk in to put the stuff I like in the front. And they don't know how to do that. But they do know how to do that at Amazon. So, creepy is relative. 

What is Seth Godin's Greatest Triumph in Marketing?

Seth gives an example, from way back when, in the long-gone, distant year of 1985. Seth was working on a product line with Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton. "I did the packaging and they were fold outs."

To keep them closed, Seth ordered 10,000 tiny little Velcro dots. But, he didn't check they would stick, and not a single one of those dots worked.

I put that down as a triumph.

I was surrounded by very well trained brand managers who never would have ordered the Velcro dots to begin with, because they would have spent three months studying the problem.

And what I learned from that is Velcro dots aren’t fatal.  I was trying to do something on behalf of the customer.

Intuitive Marketing: A Highly Underrated Skill

Seth sees this skill as one of the most important, but neglected, tools in a marketers belt. 

"I have been in the room, with billionaires making very big decisions and what you notice is, most of the analysts and most of the data aren't present. Instead, it's somebody who understands in their bones, where she wants to take things and makes an intuitive choice.

Howard Schultz was an intuitive CEO at Starbucks. And you can tell after he's left, it's harder for Starbucks to do things, because they're more data driven now. And they're not run by someone who loves coffee as much as Howard."


When Seth was first starting out, he liked the idea that he could mail a 10 page proposal to 30 publishers. But what happened? He got 800 rejection letters in the first year. One after the other.


But the reason he was being rejected was that he was too right. He had data, he had spreadsheets. What was he missing? 


And then I met a guy who had great success in the book industry. And he said, "Look, my proposals are written on a typewriter. And I don't wear a suit. People in book publishing don't want to buy proof. They want to buy hope."

So, being an intuitive marketer doesn't mean you're proving you're right. It means having empathy for the person on the other end. "You need to be able to bring them something that will match the story they tell themselves", Seth says. 

How Do Marketers Develop Personalisation Skills?

Seth debates the age old question: skills versus talent. 

Talent is what you're born with. It's something you can't get if you don't have it. Skills, on the other hand, are something we learn. 

You can learn to develop this radical empathy needed for personalisation, this ability to have a connection with somebody. "And it starts by asking somebody truly, truly how they are," Seth says. "What are they wrestling with? What was your day like? What's bothering you? What's hard for you right now?

It's not always about reaching and serving as many people as possible. You should ask instead: What's the minimum viable audience? How many people can we reach, and delight sufficiently? "For almost any organisation, that number is smaller than you think"

Our days are not about burning as much oil and chopping down as many trees and selling as many widgets as we possibly can. But maybe [it's] about being a human, and doing work that we're proud of.