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What is marketing?

Marketing exists to make sales easier.

Marketing and sales are two sides of the same coin–helping people move forward by generously showing up to solve their problems.

Marketers understand the feelings of those they seek to serve and look to serve them better. Aside from the actual need-to-buy category, what we buy isn’t products. We buy emotional change.

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want a quarter inch hole.

— Harvard marketing professor, Theodore Levitt

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill bit. They want to feel safe and be respected.

— Seth Godin

Marketing is the work of helping people get what they’ve wanted all along. Marketing is about establishing the conditions for a small group of people to eagerly spread the word and build connection. Modern marketing changes the culture by establishing what the new norms are, and does it in a way that makes things better for those it serves.

Seth Godin

Marketing is about gaining trust, showing the people you seek to serve the benefit and advantage in outcomes they can expect from doing business with you. It’s being able to speak to people in ways no-one else has.

What’s your promise? What change do you seek to make? How are you helping the people you seek to serve move forward through that change?

You have to figure out what things like “powerful” mean to the people you seek to serve, and what would equip them to become that by designing a product around a stack ranked set of values.

Your main job is persuading the people you work with to ship great stuff. No junk. No shortcuts. If you’re not the defender of the brand, who is?

I tell you what our goal is. Our goal is to make the best personal computers in the world and to make products we are proud to sell and would recommend to our family and friends and we want to do that at the lowest price as we can. But I have to tell you, there’s some stuff in our industry that we wouldn’t be proud to ship, that we wouldn’t be proud to recommend to our family and friends, and we can’t do it. We just can’t ship junk. There are thresholds that we can’t cross because of who we are, but we want to make the best personal computers in the industry.

Steve Jobs

How are you optimizing the perception of it all?

Because the best story wins. Not the best idea. Not the right answer. Just whoever tells a story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads.

Storytelling is the art of strategically withholding information to create beats of tension:

  • Varying speed
  • Varying volume
  • Varying enthusiasm and energy
  • Staccato and rhythm
  • Silence

(emphasis mine)

Girard discovered that most of what we desire is mimetic (mi-met-ik) or imitative, not intrinsic. Humans learn—through imitation—to want the same things other people want, just as they learn how to speak the same language and play by the same cultural rules. Imitation plays a far more pervasive role in our society than anyone had ever openly acknowledged.


In the universe of desire, there is no clear hierarchy. People don’t choose objects of desire the way they choose to wear a coat in the winter. Instead of internal biological signals, we have a different kind of external signal that motivates these choices: models. Models are people or things that show us what is worth wanting. It is models—not our “objective” analysis or central nervous system—that shape our desires. With these models, people engage in a secret and sophisticated form of imitation that Girard termed mimesis (mi-mee-sis), from the Greek word mimesthai (meaning “to imitate”). Models are the gravitational centers around which our social lives turn.


Mimetic desire, because it is social, spreads from person to person and through a culture. It results in two different movements—two cycles—of desire. The first cycle leads to tension, conflict, and volatility, breaking down relationships and causing instability and confusion as competing desires interact in volatile ways. This is the default cycle that has been most prevalent in human history. It is accelerating today.


There are always models of desire.


We are tantalized by models who suggest a desire for things that we don’t currently have, especially things that appear just out of reach. The greater the obstacle, the greater the attraction.

Isn’t that curious? We don’t want things that are too easily possessed or that are readily within reach. Desire leads us beyond where we currently are. Models are like people standing a hundred yards up the road who can see something around the corner that we can’t yet see. So the way that a model describes something or suggests something to us makes all the difference. We never see the things we want directly; we see them indirectly, like refracted light. We are attracted to things when they are modeled to us in an attractive way, by the right model. Our universe of desire is as big or as small as our models.

— Luke Burgis, Wanting

What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is what can you make people believe you have done. — Sherlock Holmes

Good branding means one or both of the following:

  • Affective Valence: customers with built-up positive associations with a brand (are willing to/want to) pay more for brand products compared to other brands.
  • Uncertainty Reduction: customers with trust in their expectations of a brand pay more compared to other brands.

Where change happens

Much of the difference between the marketing types come down to different amounts of attention.

Reaching, helping someone move forward, or browsing social media will be relatively different from someone reading their email and even more different from someone attending an event. Different spaces garner different Perception Optimization specialists. Sure, there is going to be overlap; it’s all helping people move forward. Same strategy; sometimes tactics differ.

A Land & Expand Reading Program

Other books

  • 🌳 Edward Bernays: Propaganda (1928)
  • 🌳 Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936)
  • 🌳 Eugene M. Schwartz: Breakthrough Advertising (1966)
  • 🌳 Philip Kotler: Marketing Management (1967)
  • 🌳 Al Ries and Jack Trout: Positioning (1980)
  • Philip Kotler: Principles of Marketing (1980)
  • 🌳 Michael Porter: Competitive Advantage (1985)
  • 🌳 Geoffrey Moore: Crossing the Chasm (1991)
  • Al Ries and Jack Trout: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (1993)
  • 🌳 Clayton Christensen: The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997)
  • Spencer Johnson: Who Moved My Cheese? (1998)
  • Robert Greene: The 48 Laws of Power (1998)
  • 🌳 Seth Godin: Permission Marketing (1999)
  • Jay Abraham: Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got (2000)
  • Seth Godin: Purple Cow (2002)
  • 🌳 W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne: Blue Ocean Strategy (2004)
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Blink (2005)
  • Seth Godin: All Marketers Are Liars (2005)
  • 🌳 Chris Anderson: The Long Tail (2006)
  • 🌳 Nassim Nicholas Taleb: The Black Swan (2007)
  • Joseph Sugarman: The Adweek Copywriting Handbook (2007)
  • Richard H. Thaler and‎ Cass R. Sunstein: Nudge (2008)
  • Dan Ariely: Predictably Irrational (2008)
  • Simon Sinek: Start With Why (2009)
  • Daniel H. Pink: Drive (2009)
  • Jeffrey Pfeffer: Power (2010)
  • Byron Sharp: How Brands Grow (2010)
  • 🌳 Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011)
  • Ryan Holiday: Trust Me I’m Lying (2012)
  • Susan Cain: Quiet (2012)
  • Daniel H. Pink: To Sell Is Human (2012)
  • Chip and Dan Heath: Decisive (2013)
  • Ann Handley: Everybody Writes (2014)
  • Phillip Tetlock: Superforecasting (2015)
  • Hamilton W. Helmer: 7 Powers (2016)
  • Donald Miller: Building a StoryBrand (2017)
  • Rory Sutherland: Alchemy (2018)
  • Julia Galef: The Scout Mindset (2021)

Also: Seth’s Store


My chain of thought started with Bards.

Websters 1913:

A professional poet and singer, as among the ancient Celts, whose occupation was to compose and sing verses in honor of the heroic achievements of princes and brave men.


a professional story teller, verse-maker, music composer, oral historian and genealogist, employed by a patron (such as a monarch or noble) to commemorate one or more of the patron’s ancestors and to praise the patron’s own activities.

Bards were poets.

Websters 1913: an imaginative thinker or writer.


The work of a poet is essentially one of communication, either expressing ideas in a literal sense, such as writing about a specific event or place, or metaphorically.

Marketing is about narrative propagation. Creating durable narratives—and the most durable narratives are stories that address our deepest needs and desires.

Simplicity spreads better, complexity sells better. Complexity designates authority through signals of effort.

Grice’s Maxims:

  1. Maxim of Quantity: Give as much information as required, and no more
  2. Maxim of Quality: Tell the truth
  3. Maxim of Relation: Be relevant
  4. Maxim of Manner: Be clear in what you’re saying

Marketing Strategy


Good businesses have high profit margins. High profit margins bring competitors willing to reduce prices. Competition drives down prices and margins. Power, here, is defined as a moat designed to maintain profit margins–a power against margin compression.

  • Scale economies (per unit cost declines as production volume increases)
  • Network economies (product value increases with increases in customers)
  • Counter-positioning (competitors anticipate mimicking your offering would damage their existing business and do not mimic)
  • Switching costs (customers switching brings financial, procedural, or relational costs)
  • Branding (affective valence and uncertainty reduction)
  • Cornered resource (idiosyncratic arbitrage—superior access to a coveted asset)
  • Process (culture enabled lower costs and/or superior product)

Opportunities (controllable inputs)

  • Content opportunities
  • Monetization opportunities
  • Collaboration opportunities

Content Opportunities

Communication Channels (Reach Platforms)

Where do the people you seek to serve show up? Where can you reach the people you seek to serve?

  • Face-to-face gatherings (word-of-mouth)
    • Meet ups
    • Events
    • Trade shows, expos
    • Conventions
    • Conferences
  • Direct mail
  • Radio
  • Advertisements (platform-specific)
  • Sponsorships
  • Phone/video calls
  • Emails
  • SMS
  • Books / eBooks
  • Blogs
  • Internet Forums
  • Podcasts
  • Direct messages (platform-specific)
  • Social Networks
    • Linkedin
    • Facebook
    • YouTube
    • Reddit
    • Twitter
    • Spotify
    • Slack
    • Instagram
    • Pinterest
    • Snapchat
    • Twitch
    • Discord
    • TikTok

Media Types

  • Text
  • Image
  • Video
  • Audio

Generic Content Types

“Content” is a weasel-word. Get specific on what you’re creating.

  • Brand updates
  • Announcements
  • Guides / how-to’s / Instructions
  • Case studies
  • Lists
  • Content curation
  • Resources
  • Reviews (tool reviews)
  • Editorial / opinion / prediction
  • Templates
  • Research
  • “State of X” report
  • Photos (memes, infographics, charts, illustrations)
  • Quotes
  • Giveaways
  • FAQs
  • YesAQs
  • Q&A
  • Dictionary
  • Interviews
  • Essays
  • Arguments
  • Sales pitches
  • Invitation
  • Note
  • Comment
  • Letter
  • Novel
  • Confession
  • Poetry
  • Manifesto

Monetization opportunities

Monetization Models

  • One-off payment
  • Subscription payment

Generic Monetization Types

  • Sell your by-products
  • Improve your selling techniques to up-sell and cross-sell
  • Use point-of-sale promotions
  • Bundle and package complementary products together
  • Increase pricing, and therefore margins
  • Change profile of your products to be more “up market”
  • Offer greater/larger units of purchase
  • Provide advertising/sponsorship opportunities for other brands
  • Reactivate inactive customers

Strategy Influences

Branding Influences

  • Reciprocity
  • Consistency
  • Social proof
  • Attraction
  • Authority
  • Scarcity
  • Unity (“us”)

Content Influences

  • Cohort → different content opportunities due to network effects (e.g., team activities, groups have more content opportunities than individuals)

Monetization Influences

  • Audience size → different monetization opportunities due to demand differences and economies of scale (e.g., branded merchandise makes less sense with little customers)

Collaboration Influences

  • Classification → different collaboration opportunities due to inferential differences and production method differences.
  • Location → different collaboration opportunities due to location differences


Community platforms:

  • Bandcamp
  • WordPress
  • Discord
  • Patreon
  • Substack
  • Reddit
  • Mighty Networks
  • Discourse


  • One to one
    • Direct email (letter)
    • Direct message
    • Direct call
  • One to many (Post)
  • Many to many (Chat)

Sendable media types:

  • Text
  • Image
  • Audio (file/record)
  • Video (file/record)

One to one relationship examples:

  • Email
  • AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)

One to man relationship examples:

  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Instagram

Many to many relationship examples

  • Bulletin board systems (BBS)
  • Usenet
  • IRC
  • PowWow
  • Reddit
  • Discord


  • Direct Message
  • Post
  • Channel
    • Text chat
    • Voice chat


  • Commerce (product)
    • Digital product
      • File
      • Code
      • Webhook
    • Physical