The Circular Logic of Marketing

For the first time today, I am left upset by a blog that does not accept comments. Yes, it was his, though the decision didn’t bother me at the time.

When marketers look at success in a product or service, I wonder if they tell themselves “This restaurant has clearly succeeded because…” while finding reasons that justify the beliefs they already have. I have asked myself this repeatedly while reading Permission Marketing.

But would this not apply to everything? Sometimes I say to myself, “Well, I’ve made it onto Sirius! Clearly, that’s because I stood by what I wanted to do, and didn’t compromise the kind of show I wanted to make!” If I had failed in creating a popular podcast, however, would I not conclude that I failed because I refuse to compromise? After all, all great entertainers need to bend to corporate interests sooner or later! Do we not all justify our current positions with reasoning that coincides with our worldview? He didn’t compromise, why wasn’t he gifted with success during his lifetime?

With the release of A Scanner Darkly, Philip K. Dick is more than ever before being seen as a genius, both misunderstood and ahead of his time. If you believe this, ask yourself: What does this say about my worldview? If he refused to compromise, why didn’t he succeed during his lifetime?

Back to Seth. He says:

Jindi’s refusal to compromise [her menu] is yet another reason she’s doing so well at lunch, actually. Because taste is starting to catch up with her. People are now ordering the items she would have deleted ten years ago.

And in a connected world, it’s much easier for the chowhounds to leave a digital trail of breadcrumbs to her door.

Ingrained in this statement are the following beliefs:

1 – People (especially customers) are getting smarter.

2 – Refusing to compromise your ideals will eventually bring you success.

While I am far from qualified to question Seth’s reasoning, the post itself does not fully explain the reasoning upon which these conclusions are based. Simply believing Seth’s post because he is Seth or because he is an A-list blogger or whatever could lead a number of well-meaning people astray.

My personal experience is limited, but I believe a certain amount of compromise is required for any venture’s success. But of course, you can probably see that by examining what I write already. ๐Ÿ™‚






8 responses to “The Circular Logic of Marketing”

  1. Keith Douglas Avatar

    Of course it certainly would not be wise to believe Seth Godin’s post just because of who he is! But at the same time I have to strongly disagree that . .

    “all great entertainers need to bend to corporate interests sooner or later!”

    Do they?

    Yes, in order to gain the exposure of mainstream media and marketing you have to bend to corporate interests.

    But the point here is that the communications revolution means you can reach your audience and potential customers without mainstream media and rich corporations. Therefore you don’t need to compromise!

    Refusing to compromise your ideals IS success and it is becoming increasingly more effective to do so.

  2. seth godin Avatar


    congrats on getting on Sirius, and thanks for reading my blog.

    yesterday’s post was incomplete and unformed, I think that was on purpose. I’m certainly NOT saying you shouldn’t compromise. It just felt poignant to sit there with her at this great place… I was proud to be there, she was happy and engaged and the business was doing just fine.

    I think if she’d done what the other 100 restaurants did, she’d be less happy but just as empty at night…

  3. Julien Avatar

    Keith: Thanks for the comment. To clarify, I was not personally saying that “all great entertainers need to bend to corporate interests,” but simply that, were I to believe that, I would base my reasoning for other decisions on that meta-belief. But I think you get that.

    It is true that refusing to compromise what you believe in is success, but if you can’t bend the world to your will, you can be in for some pretty crazy surprises… Mestre Pastinha was a great Brazilian teacher who died, blind and alone, after devoting his whole life to teaching a beautiful, illegal, and unpopular art in Brazil. What do we say when we’re confronted with that?

    Seth: Thanks for taking a look at my post. I personally do want to believe that people who are smart and do not compromise end up succeeding because of their principles, but I can’t help but wonder why I believe that (especially at 8am on this Saturday morning). Also, whether making decisions based on this gut feeling will lead one to the kind of elusive success your restaurateur has caught onto.

    What I wondered last night as I wrote this was less, “well, what proof does he have,” but more, “how do you catch on to when it’s right?” Lots of people make decisions they consider to be right that lead them to ruin… when do we jump, and when do stay sitting down?

  4. Lewis Green Avatar

    While I agree that we should never compromise our principals (re: values), the people we touch (customers, employees, vendors, etc.) deserve our greatest attention to their needs, wants and desires. That is not catering to the lowest common denominator; it is understanding your target market(s) and meeting its needs.

    Using the entertainer example: I traveled with a rock band in my youth. We never compromised our principals and we never became a pop band. But we had a solid following because we met their needs, wants and desires.

    Reaching and catering to your audience is not a gut feeling. It may not be 100 percent science, but it is about gathering data by listening, by perceiving and by caring. And then we can be innovative knowing that our innovations will care for those we care most about.

  5. Michelle Avatar

    It’s true that we see what we want to see – I think that is a basic human tendency that is hard for us to escape entirely. Analyzing this can make you crazy because it’s all relative. To some degree, our experience in this world is defined by our own perspectives – “change your mind, change the world,” as the saying goes. And while exposing ourselves to other perspectives can be a worthwhile exercise and a tremendous opportunity for growth, it can also pull us away from our center, causing us to lose touch with our identity and our values. Fortunately, if we get lost in the “hive mind” of external opinions and other stimuli, the process of finding ourselves again is an equally powerful affirmation of who we are as individuals and what we each have to contribute. In fact, it’s necessary to get lost somewhat in order to truly find yourself.

    There are lots of different things that motivate people to create – for personal expression, for commercial gain, to promote an idea, to make people think… It’s not so much what you create, but why you’re creating it – your vision – that should be your yardstick by which you measure your integrity. If your work continues to reflect your vision, I don’t know that it would necessarily be a compromise to take advantage of opportunities that enable you to better manifest that vision, so long as those opportunities do not demand that you change the substance of what you do.

    What is immoral is to waste your natural gifts and efforts on something that you yourself do not believe in… or to hoard your talent or wisdom instead of using it to enlighten others or give back to the world. (Did you go back and listen to IOYH #111 yet?) ๐Ÿ™‚ Fortunately, you seem vigilant against that kind of misuse, so I don’t think you are in any danger there.

    If I understand anything about you from what you have expressed here and on your show, I am fairly confident that you possess strong, trustworthy instincts that will tell you when things feel wrong. The difficult part is hearing that message – it’s easy for that small, still voice inside us to be drowned out by all the opinions and judgements we are constantly exposed to. It’s worthwhile now and then to try to filter out the input that’s not constructive. Opinions don’t have much credibility when the people who voice them choose to do so anonymously or refuse to acknowledge an alternative point of view. One-sided communication is not constructive or helpful to anyone – open-mindedness and integrity are necessary for us all to grow. Self-analysis does help to keep us honest with ourselves, but our instincts have a lot to offer as well.

    In the end, all that matters is that you are satisfied that you have done right by your own vision. Think of all the artists who are harshly criticized or completely dismissed during their lifetime, only to be hailed as a visionary after their death. And it’s not just artists in the traditional sense – leaders, teachers, scientists… Yeah, it sucks because we all have an ego that wants to be acknowledged, but you have to focus on the big picture to accomplish great things – and often the big picture extends way beyond our tiny lifespans, and certainly encompasses events that dwarf our fragile egos. ๐Ÿ™‚ You have to ask yourself: Are you doing it for the world, or are you doing it for yourself? Probably it’s a little bit of both, and in either case, the most important thing is that the vision that informs all that you express and produce does not get distorted.

    Continue to express what you want to contribute to this world in whatever form you like, and stand behind what you do. You’ll know if something is wrong or you’re heading in the wrong direction, because it will start to feel weird to claim the results as your own.

  6. John Dodds Avatar


    I see you found my alternate version of Seth’s post. One of the reasons behind it was I hope to show the other extreme and why Seth’s ideal is worth pursuing. Or where you end up if you ignore it. That said I am convinced that the customers are not markedly smarter than they were – quite a lot are but far from all (to be pompous for a moment – the internet is not a panacea, You need a level of education be that formal or informal to benefit from it).

    As for refusing to compromise ideals – I think the key is that the perfectionism in question was neither financially burdensome nor detrimental to the popularity of her food amongst existing customers. If those condiitons hold, then it doesn’t matter that it may take a long time for those people who DO notice that je ne sais quoi and spread the word to attain a crtiical mass.

  7. Julien Avatar

    john, very good comment. i really think you’ve hit upon it; the fact that her bottom line was not significantly compromised may have been what made it possible, in addition to her interest in keeping the exotic items on the menu.

    to lead this to what i feel to be its logical conclusion, keep your items that sell less, keep working on your hobbies even if they don’t make money, because they are enjoyable to have, and develop the quality of the experience.

  8. Bitcloud Avatar

    Hey Julien… your comments about ‘pink’ reminded me of a comic I did not too long ago:

    Looking ridiculous is not for the weak… ๐Ÿ™‚

    Cheers for the podcast, it’s shit hot – i’ll be listening in…

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