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Seth Godin's Smallest Viable Market and People Like Me

Seth Godin doesn’t provide a secret recipe for marketing success in This Is Marketing, but he does give beginning marketers great advice on how to look at marketing. When marketers target their smallest viable market and think about who they want to change, the job gets a lot easier. If that sounds useful to you, read on! Maybe you’ll want to pick up a copy of the book when you’re done.

Seth Godin’s This Is Marketing is officially the first book I’ve read on marketing, so I’m not exactly qualified to tell you how it stacks up against—well—any other marketing book. Having been “in marketing” for all of six months, I probably can’t tell you where he hit the nail on the head and where he missed entirely and broke his thumb with the hammer. But you know what? In this case that might just be a good thing. The world is changing and marketing with it, so a fresh pair of eyes can’t hurt.

The Smallest Viable Market:

And besides, when Godin wrote this book, he didn’t write it for the marketers with 20+ years of experience. He wrote it for the people out there who want to market a product, a specific product that they care about, but they don’t know how.

That much you can tell from the title alone. This Is Marketing. If you’ve been marketing products your entire life, you probably already know what marketing is, and you might leave this book behind on your weekly trip to Barnes & Noble’s Marketing section.

And that’s exactly the point! Godin wrote this book for marketing beginners, and that’s how he marketed it.

He took his own advice.

He found his “smallest viable audience:” a very specific group of people that his product can help; who he was trying to “change,” as he so often puts it. In this case, entrepreneurs with little to no marketing experience looking to share their passion project with the world.

So no, I’m not exactly the person Godin wrote This Is Marketing for either. I’m a fledgling marketer, but I’m not looking to market my own product.

After all, the smallest viable market doesn’t deal with “the minimum number of people [I] would need to influence to make it worth the effort.” (25) I’m already getting paid. I’ll put in the effort my client requests—but now I think I can help guide my client to their most viable audience. I can ask the right questions.


Now don’t expect to read this book and suddenly know just how to rise through the ranks of your marketing firm. It doesn’t give you a step by step to-do list that’s guaranteed to make your products fly off of the shelves—and it certainly won’t tell you exactly how to do that for your clients.

That’s the thing about marketing. There is no magic recipe. Every product you market and every client you market for should be handled differently.


This goes back what and who you are trying to change. In This Is Marketing Godin calls this idea “people like us do things like this.” He comes back to this point again and again, probably at least once in every chapter (don’t quote me on that, I didn’t count.) No two people are exactly the same, but we all have a personal brand.

I’d describe mine as neurotic-but-creative-tech-savvy-perfectionist. My husband’s would be easy-going-works-with-his-hands-nomadic-adventurer. We don’t buy the same things. People like me will probably spend money on Adobe products and insurance. People like Alec will spend money on camping gear and tools. If people like me are buying Prismacolors, I’m probably going to be interested in buying Prismacolors too. Alec? Not so much. And that’s fine! Prismacolor marketers shouldn’t try to market to everyone. Just people like me.

Maybe sweeping over that one group of “people like us” justifies the effort put into the product. Great! Smallest Viable Market conquered! And maybe it doesn’t. Your smallest viable market may include a couple different kinds of tribes—another term Godin uses for “people like us.” That’s fine too, but you’ll need to adjust your strategy to include those tribes. Maybe you don’t just want creative perfectionists to buy Prismacolors, you want all creatives to buy them. Those are two different messages. Maybe you advertise that the vivid pigment in Prismacolors makes for more realistic art—clean lines, bright colors, high contrast—just what an artistic perfectionist is looking for! For all creatives, maybe you argue that these high-quality pencils will take their art to a more professional level. I don’t know a single artistic soul who isn’t looking to improve their craft.

What I’m saying is, Godin doesn’t give you the exact process of marketing success because he can’t. Instead, he gives you the questions you’ll need to ask to figure it out for yourself.


I think marketing can be defined in two words: building tension. I think Seth Godin might disagree with me and suggest “making change.” That’s true for him, I think, and for his smallest viable audience. After all, they have created a product that will change the world and marketing is the only way to put it into action.

But for me, an employee at a marketing firm, building tension is more accurate. I’m trying to make people want to buy something. The only way to do that is to tell a story. (21) Stories are all about tension. If you were to write a story where everything was perfect, it would be boring. Stories live and breathe tension.

When you’re writing a story for marketing purposes, your smallest viable audience is the main character and your product is the resolution. So what’s the problem? What’s the tension? What are you trying to change?

Let’s try the Prismacolor example where we’re marketing to people like me (neurotic-but-creative-tech-savvy-perfectionists.) I use a drawing tablet instead of colored pencils because I can get more precise, vivid colors, but sometimes I miss creating something tangible. Boom: there’s our problem. So our marketing needs to advertise that Prismacolors have all the vivid color and precision of digital drawing while also providing a tangible result, not just pixels on a screen. Maybe your headline would be something like “Get Back to Your Artistic Roots” and your subhead would boast about “pixel-precise Prismacolors bring RBG-vivid colors to paper.”

So long story short, This Is Marketing won’t solve your problem, but it will give you the tools you need to solve it yourself. If that sounds like what you need, pick up a copy of the book! If not, check out our blog for more marketing topics. After all that, if you still need help with marketing— Targa Media’s got your back.

This blog was first written for Targa Media Inc. and is published at

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