5 questions for schools inspired by Seth Godin's "This Is Marketing"


Seth Godin’s latest book, This Is Marketing, provides a master class on creating change.

Here are five critical questions raised by This Is Marketing that school leaders can use:

  1. What’s it for? Who’s it for? Whether you’re operating at the level of a course, a program, or full school culture, focus on two essential parameters: This thing you have created (or inherited)... Who’s it for and what’s it for? Note that these questions imply their opposites: What is it not for? Who is it not for?*

  2. What is your simple marketing promise? Godin asks us to fill in these blanks: “My product is for people who believe __________. I will focus on people who want __________. I promise that engaging with what I make will help you get __________.”

  3. What are your axes? Godin asks us to “go to extremes” and “find an edge” by identifying two attributes and assigning them axes. Then he warns us: “When you look at the list of available attributes, it’s tempting to pick the ones that most people care about. […] If you do, you’ll certainly be choosing a crowded quadrant. […] The alternative is to build your own quadrant. To find two axes that have been overlooked. To build a story, a true story, that keeps your promise, that puts you in a position where you are the clear and obvious choice.”

  4. What are the internal narratives of your audience? This is related to—but distinct from—what change you are trying to make. Godin says, “As marketers and agents of change, we almost always overrate our ability to make change happen. The reason is simple… Everyone always acts in accordance with their internal narratives. You can’t get someone to do something they don’t want to do, and most of the time, what people want to do is take action (or not take action) that reinforces their internal narrative. The real question, then, is where does the internal narrative come from, and how does it get changed? Or, more likely, how do we use the internal narrative to change the actions that people take?” (emphases in the original)

  5. What is the one story to invest in? Think of the change you are trying to make as a serialized TV show like Game of Thrones: it has a clear central narrative (who will win the battle for the Iron Throne?), while each episode tells a bit of that story, drip by drip. Godin invites us to consider: “If you could patiently invest more time and money in putting the story of your brand in the world, how would you do it? […] We remember what we rehearse. We remember the things that we see over and over again. That we do over and over.” What is the central narrative you want to invest in? What are the different episodes that can constitute the unfolding plot of that one story?

To Godin, marketing is ultimately about creating change. If you’re not following his playbook, that’s fine… but then what is your change strategy? And how will you market that change?


*To go deeper into these questions and more, I strongly recommend that marketing, communications, and development professionals attend the Strategic Marketing & Advancement Institute. I had the privilege of speaking at it this past November, but was even more privileged to learn from independent school experts Jeff Wack and Kathy Hanson.


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Christian Talbot