The only way to succeed as an entrepreneur--especially when you're up against larger competitors--is to "get on the side of change."
That's according to marketing expert Seth Godin. He says, "2021 doesn't care about what you were hoping for--2021 is going to come whether you want it to or not." He spoke with Inc. editor-in-chief Scott Omelianuk Wednesday during the latest live webinar in Inc.'s Real Talk: Business Reboot virtual event series.
In a wide-ranging conversation, Godin talked about his definition of good marketing (and how it differs from advertising), common traps that can sink a business, and how brands can best reach their audiences. A popular author, Godin has written 19 books, among them This Is Marketing: You Can't Be Seen Until You Learn to See (Portfolio, 2018), and he is a prolific blogger. He's also a serial entrepreneur and founder of Akimbo, a platform for online workshops that includes the altMBA program, a four-week intensive workshop, and the host of the weekly Akimbo podcast.
Amid the global pandemic, when so many norms have been turned upside down, how should entrepreneurs move forward? Here's Godin's advice for business owners struggling in the current economic crisis.
To succeed in a fast-moving and unpredictable world, you can't be too attached to old ways of doing things--whether that's one marketing tactic or an entire business model--or to your existing vision of the future, Godin says. He compares entrepreneurship to surfing: "There's going to be a different wave tomorrow, and that's good. That's what you signed up for."
To get your company through the downturn, he says, you may need to stop prioritizing short-term profitability over long-term survival. Consider Yahoo, for example, he says. When the dot-com bubble burst, the internet companies that went on to succeed were ones like Google, which took a step back and developed a brand-new, durable niche. Yahoo, and others like it, chased a series of short-term boosts, struggled and eventually failed.
A big difference now, he explains, is that while most business owners have faced adversity in one form or another, currently "everyone is getting squeezed in the same way." And, he adds, "we are all feeling it at the same time."
When facing hard choices, make it your goal to be resilient and flexible enough to withstand the crisis, and then do the best you can and accept the results. For example, a restaurant chain may need to close some locations to ensure the whole business's survival. It's important, he says, to forgive yourself if you can't save every part of your business.
Find your audience.
Make sure you're providing exactly the right product or service at the right time to the right people (who will then, ideally, tell their friends about you). "You just need to matter to a few people," Godin says. Find your "minimum viable audience," or "the smallest group that could possibly sustain you in your work." When in doubt, get back to the reason why you started a business in the first place.
While the coronavirus crisis may mean that there are fewer customers and they may not be willing to spend as much money, opportunities can still be found, he says. That doesn't mean you should slash prices or flog an unpopular product in a race to the bottom. Regardless of the sunk costs that have gone into your business, Godin says, "if you make something that people neither need nor want, you should make something else."
What's more, it's a mistake to use social media marketing to spam an audience to garner attention and hype. Instead, he says, "You need to spend more time saying, 'Who exactly am I here for, and how can I do something for them that they would miss if I didn't do it?' "
Forget 'authenticity' and just be human.
Godin rejects the notion that behaving "authentically" in your marketing (that is, being your unvarnished self without a perceived intent or agenda) is the best way to connect with customers.
"What people actually want from you is consistency," he says. While you have to act within the boundaries of what your brand stands for, empathy is the most important thing: Your employees should meet your customers where they are, and treat them as people.
In an era that requires many companies to pivot quickly, Godin argues that small businesses have an advantage, because they're closer to the people they serve and can act more quickly in response to their needs and wants. Slogans won't gain people's trust, he says. "What we're asking for when we are feeling disrupted is simply to be seen."