This week I have been reading Seth Godin’s newest book “This is Marketing: You can’t be Seen until You Learn to See”.

What has been so refreshing about the book is Seth’s way of simply explaining how ideas work, which issues we should be thinking about when we embark on the journey in discovering and idea, and then thinking how that idea could be better known by others.

Because “Ideas that spread, win” (p. 12).

The focus in the book is very much on changing mindsets from market-driven (how to compete for more exposure) to driving the market (making a difference).

The 2 key questions throughout the book are deceivingly simple: who is it for and what is it for.

Sounds simple, right?

But most of us fail spectacularly in answering both questions as we remain embedded in the mindset of selling an idea rather than its value and benefit to others.

Marketing is not only about selling products btw.

Each of us does a ton of marketing every day: how we want our boss to see our careers and potential for promotion, how we want our friends and family to see us, how we show up and want people to perceive us at the workplace or at an international conference.

We are all constantly pitching ourselves and ideas to others, which makes Seth’s book an invaluable contribution to the majority of people, not just those who want to upscale product sales or are running a business.


Focus on dreams and emotions

Marketing is often mistaken to mean that we need to just sell a product.

This means tracking tightly how many Facebook likes and Twitter and Instagram followers we are attracting and then working hard to get more of these in the already crowded Internet space.

This again is very much a reflection of the market-driven attitude where we focus just on the metrics available for us rather than actually focus driving the market with our ideas and with the core on being different.

What many of us know but don’t remember or pay attention to is that marketing is about emotions.

Most of the products we are marketed at on daily basis are not really about needs.

It is the emotion that we gain if we purchase a particular kind of product: the new computer, those new shoes that will make you feel happy, that new dress that makes you look professional or new book that you can harness to get new ideas.

Hence, as Seth notes (p. 21):

“If you can bring someone belonging, connection, peace of mind, status or one of the other most desired emotions, you’ve done something worthwhile. The thing you sell is simply a rood to achieve those emotions, and we let everyone down when we focus on the tactics, not the outcomes”.

So driving the market then is really a question of how you deliver and leverage your idea to help others to attain something that they value; an emotion that remains unfulfilled but towards which they are willing to listen to you.

This relates further to the idea of not using demographics in thinking about your audience but psychographics instead: “Begin by choosing people based on what they dream of, believe, and want, not based on what they look like” (p. 29).

This is a very different approach than your business-as-usual marketing as this approach focuses on creating something of value and being of service to others.


Accepting your audience is a start for a possibility

But marketing is not about trying to change people’s fundamental desires or values.

Because that is a battle that most of the time you cannot win.

People hold different worldviews and values, and that is something that you need to accept if you want to tell your story successfully.

Not everyone will ever want or need your product or your idea.

In fact, you should shun away from “everyone” because “Your work is not for everyone. It is only for those who signed up for the journey” (p. 34).

So focus your efforts on doing what you can, to offer alternatives while also being mindful that “everyone” is not a good description of an audience you want to reach anyway:

“If we can accept that people have accepted who they have become, it’s a lot easier to dance with them. Not transform them, not to get them to admit they that they were wrong. Simply to dance with them, to have a chance to connect with them, to add our story to what they see and add our beliefs to what they hear” (p. 64).

Spreading an idea then is about knowing your audience, understanding their dreams and values, and how whatever idea you have delivers on some of those dreams and emotions.

What Seth means here is that focus on knowing your tribe.

What is the smallest viable audience that you need to reach and who are they?

It is in many ways deliberating to accept that we cannot and should not or will ever please everyone; that your services and ideas just need to reach those who can truly benefit from those.

And in the end it all comes down to the story: are we telling a story to people that inspires them, that moves them, that opens up possibilities they are dreaming of or haven’t even dreamt of yet?

You are the story.

With that comes an immense load of responsibility but also of innovation, new discoveries, opportunities and better value.


Leveraging Seth’s ideas in climate adaptation

So how can we academics and who are working on issues like climate change adaptation use some of Seth’s advice and guidance in our work and personal lives?

One thing that comes to mind is that we need to really understand our audience but also how climate adaptation fits with the already crowded space of sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, greener economies, circular economy and low-carbon development pathways.

Where can we deliver the best value, an idea or service that makes people’s lives better or at least provides an option that can be of benefit?

As I am ttending the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 6thAssessment Working Group II first Lead Author meeting this week in Durban, I find that these questions are fundamental even to a scientific process:

1) Who is the assessment really for and

2) What is it for?

Answering these questions will be crucial in the whole assessment.

Not just because we are mandated to deliver the report but because we want to do work that matters, we want to provide value adding information and knowledge that policymakers, institutions, communities, and individuals can find useful.

Knowledge that adds value.

Knowledge alone of course is not a sure guide for action: we already know about the fallacies that all we need is more knowledge and then action will follow.

As we saw during the Convention of Parties 24 in Poland last year, armed with even the best knowledge about climate change and its impacts and consequences, our audiences will still make decisions based on their worldviews and values.


Delivering value and engaging 

The challenge before us is therefore greater than ever: how do our efforts (which are on volunteer basis btw) in this assessment process result in something that answers the core wants.

We are already seeing impacts of climate change worldwide and adaptation to climate change is no longer, and will not ever be, just a nice additional option in our lives.

Adaptation is the core business of both today and the future.

How do we as adaptation scientists then drive the market of ideas in an extremely crowded space where we need to capture people’s attention?

We cannot be static or boring because then we have already lost our audience.

We need to think of new ways of engaging, new ways of delivering scientific information but also in a way that is personal.

Each of us here in Durban have a personal story to tell, about what we are seeing in the data, about the communities that we have met who are already struggling with climate impacts, but also about options, innovation and strategies that can make a difference in how we adapt.

I look forward this week of work and in starting to think more deeply and meaningfully in how all this knowledge around adaptation can result in new insights and innovation.

In the end, ideas that spread is no longer about who shouts the loudest but who delivers most value.

Stay tuned.