How much could society improve if every company took on the challenge Seth Godin makes in his 2018 book?
In This is Marketing Godin argues in favour of marketing to serve people.
Marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve a problem. Their problem.
It’s a chance to change the culture for the better.
Marketing involves very little in the way of shouting, hustling or coercion.
It’s a chance to serve, instead.
Most of the book encourages readers to create and work within companies that help people by building a small audience of true fans and serving them so well that they are happy to buy things and recommend you to everyone they know.
A good summary of his philosophy appears on page 196.
You do people a service when you make better things and make it easy to talk about them,” he wrote. “What we choose to market is up to us. If the change you seek to make can’t be talked about, perhaps you should find a different change worth making.”
I’ve been thinking about Godin’s arguments a lot lately, particularly in the wake of major tobacco bans in parks in Montreal and at the entire campus of my former alma mater, Western University.
You see, I don’t like complete bans on anything. Bans not only make peoples’ lives difficult—in the case of Montreal, the bans will most affect people with mental disorders and the homeless—but they also serve as good marketing for the banned item. There’s nothing as attractive as that thing we can’t have, particularly for young people.
At the same time, I agree that there should be limits on a product with immense health risks and Godin’s last chapter tirade against evil marketers hits a chord.
Tobacco companies get mentioned twice in the paragraph that describes evil marketers.
I think it’s evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to cynically manipulate the electoral or political process, to lie to people in ways that cause disastrous side effects. I think it’s evil to sell an ineffective potion when an effective medicine is available. I think it’s evil to come up with new ways to make smoking acceptable so you can make a few more bucks.”
But is an outright ban a good response?
I don’t think so. Bans simply don’t work. They badly inconvenience the few without helping the many. Also, by the time people agree to ban something, the need for a ban is beginning to wane.
I haven’t changed my stance against them since arguing against a tobacco and alcohol sponsorship ban at Western in 1983. As a local club organizer, I got to discuss the plan to ban event subsidies by cigarette brands briefly with Western’s president George Connell. My club didn’t much care, but other student organizers with bigger events would struggle to replace the massive funding tobacco companies offered.
Our arguments against the ban didn’t sway him in the least.
Connell was adamant that all cigarette company sponsorships get banned outright on campus.
Only brands that make us proud should be featured on campus,” he argued. “Relying on unhealthy products to present good cultural events takes positive energy away from those events. We don’t want to stain our reputation.
Godin would probably agree. His book encourages marketers to create a reliable experience for every single customer. On page 174, he outlines just some of the moments that matter.
Everything you do, from the way you answer the phone to the design of your packaging, from your location to the downstream effects of your work, from the hold music to the behaviour of your executives, and even the kind of packing peanuts you use—all of it is a form of marketing your brand.”
You can’t measure it. You might not even notice it.
But it still matters
Godin offers several examples to make the point that good brands market well by ensuring that every moment of a client experience reflects shared values.
On page 154, he describes how a good brand fulfils customer expectations.
A brand is shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What promise do they think you’re making? What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you?
That promise is your brand.
Nike doesn’t hae a hotel. If it did, you would probably have some good guesses as to what it would be like. That’s Nike’s brand.
If you have true fans, the only reason you do is because this group has engaged with you in a way that signals that they expect something worthwhile from you next time. That expectation isn’t specific; it’s emotional…If people care, you’ve got a brand.”
Even in 1983, I agreed with this too, which is why the cross-country skiing club never even thought about seeking tobacco sponsorship. We didn’t need it.
Still, I really didn’t like the way Connell brushed off the concerns of a girl organizing a big concert that was supposed to happen a month after the ban would take effect.
I’m not going to start smoking just because I see their brands everywhere,” I said at the time. “You think we’re all stupid.”
Not stupid, he said, just capable of being influenced.
Connell understood how aggressive tobacco companies have been when it comes to advertising, especially to young people. He grew up in the period described by this Daniel J. Robinson’s 2019 paper about the operations of Imperial Tobacco during the 1930s, when their operations were rapidly growing.
Connell’s argument won out and that girl had to cancel her event.
I haven’t thought about that discussion for years until I read that Western plans to outright ban all smoking on campus this coming July.
It’s a trend. Dalhousie University went smoke-free in 2003, but 29 others joined them last year. Guelph and U of T plan to go smoke free next year. The Canadian Cancer Society, which argues in favour of these bans, claims that 65 campuses are already smoke-free.
Neighbours around each of these locations suffer as smokers congregate together on tiny streets next to the parks and campuses.
Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia still allows smokers—even pot smokers— to smoke in designated places on campus. I think that’s a better plan, both for neighbourhood peace and for the convenience of people who want to smoke.
Either way, unless something changes, the long-term trend in Canada means fewer smokers every year. The University of Waterloo’s Propel Centre for Population Health Impact research unit has a good chart showing how smoking in Canada has dropped over time.
So I won’t waste my time wading into the dilemma on smoking bans.
My former red hair often had people asking where in Scotland I’m from. For years, I knew of no Scottish blood relatives. Now, I’ve finally found Scottish and Irish roots on my mom’s side.
Turns out that great granny Keziah Charlotte Mcmaster Charboneau, whose birth took place almost exactly a hundred years before mine, identified as ‘Scotch’ even though she never lived in Scotland.
Keziah’s heritage demonstrates a clear cultural tradition in my family of identifying children with their father’s heritage.
She could have identified as Canadian, given that her birth took place in Orangeville Ontario. She might have been Irish, because her mom Mary Willard’s birthplace was Ireland. Still, it was her dad Robert Mcmaster’s birthplace that was important. He was born in Scotland, although I don’t know where.
Even though her parents had different heritages, Keziah identified as “Scotch.”
Yet, some crossed-out hashtags next to her eldest child on the 1901 census indicate that someone wanted to make sure her children were seen as French.
The enumerator probably initially assumed the children shared their mother’s heritage of ‘Scotch’ because the entire family was English-speaking and practiced the Brethren religion. Many of the people he interviewed in the village of Weston, Ontario practiced the protestant denomination stemming from a German movement that began in 1708.
His mistake got corrected, however, presumably by 38-year-old Keziah herself.
Clear hashtag marks indicating that Etta was Scotch were scratched out to write in the word “French” to match the heritage of their father, Paul Charbonneau, who appears in a 1917 Weston resident list as “the caretaker who lives in the house on the east side of Cross street.”
The rest of the hashtags identify all ten children—from two-year-old Wilbert, through six-year-old John, eight-year-old Zelia, nine-year-old Charlotte, 15-year-old Paul, 16-year-old Henry, 18-year-old Latton, 19-year-old Maggie and 20-year-old Etta—as French like their father, not Scotch like their mom.
Keziah and Paul’s first son, Matthew Dalton Charbonneau doesn’t appear at all, perhaps because he lived elsewhere on March 31, 1901 (the day the census is supposed to represent). He’s on earlier and later censuses though. Eight summers later, he married Edith Daniels in Toronto.
Even when family members had more information, they carried on the tradition of father-centred heritage. Kezia’s son, J.P. Charbonneau described her as “Scotch” on her death certificate just a few lines before identifying her parents’ birthplaces.
Keziah’s death took place in her son’s home at 111 St. Johns Road in Toronto. She died there of chronic myocarditis (heart failure) on July 30, 1932, at the age of 76 years old.
She’s buried in Weston’s Riverside Cemetery, 1567 Royal York Rd, Etobicoke, ON M9P 3C4. I plan to look for her gravesite when next in Toronto.
Trottier’s childhood passion for electro-magnetic technology has him to create:
The Montreal native holds unfailing love for his city. He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 2006. His nomination as an officer took place in 2017.
When I met him, he spoke honestly about the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, the brilliant researchers he supports and the issues on which he’s changed his mind.
“When we started, there was no venture capital,” he says about Matrox, the 600-employee company he co-founded with partner Branko Matic in 1976. “What helped us is that we picked a product to develop that we were able to sell within six months. We kind of bootstrapped and grew slowly in the beginning, not necessarily by choice.”
Matrox peaked in the late 1990s and 2000s with its graphics cards. Trottier says the company couldn’t sustain that level of leadership over time and “kind of flamed out.” Still, he’s proud that the company has not only stayed in business through forty years of high technological change but remains flexible enough to continually develop new products that put the latest research into practical use.
“Today, we have three basic areas of strength,” he says. “With computer graphics, we’re strong in display walls and public information displays. With television production, when you watch any sports on the nightly news, sports or election results, our cards are in the bowels of what you see. We’re also strong in machine vision. The latest flavour there is deep learning and we’re getting into that via the algorithms we’re developing.”
Trottier says that he likes meeting the Matrox senior researchers to make sure that the company continues to benefit from significant technological breakthroughs.
That drive to keep current in basic science also has him funding researchers like René Doyon. Doyon runs the Director of the Institute for Research on exoplanets at the Université de Montréal.
“René Doyon is among the world’s top research in exoplanets,” says Trottier. “He’s developed a sensitive spectrometer to be able to read the biomarkers of atmospheres around planets, including water vapor, carbon dioxide and perhaps methane or oxygen. It’s one of the instruments on the $8 billion telescope called the James Webb Telescope that will launch in the fall of 2018. They want to find earth 2.0.”
When asked about vulnerabilities, Trottier says that he’s “more of a geek and not very people-oriented.” He’s also “very stubborn and dogmatic.” He says his attitude sometimes prevents him from appreciating public trends.
When his youngest daughter was studying environmental studies, for example, he was less than enthusiastic about the issue of climate change.
“I probably said some things about those protesters that I would be ashamed of now,” he says. “Skeptic is too strong a word, but I was not convinced that there was anything beyond showmanship.”
After his daughters convinced him to take a closer look at the science behind climate change, he brought eminent scientists from around the world for a public symposium on the issue in the autumn of 2005.
What he learned turned him into one of the top funders in the field with a $15 million grant to McGill in 2011 to create two climate change research institutes. The Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design promotes engineering, architecture and urban planning research. The Trottier Institute for Science and Public Policy, which is run by soil-expert Tim Moore, was set up to expand the contribution of science to human welfare.
“If it hadn’t been for my daughters, I might still be on the sidelines with the climate change issue,” says Trottier. “If you have an open mind, you can change it about anything.”
The experience also wanted him to help change other peoples’ minds about science. Since 2007, Trottier has funded annual public symposiums at McGill. Many are webcast and permanently available at https://www.mcgill.ca/science/outreach/webcasts/trottier-symposium.
Trottier likes Canada’s modern attitude and its cultural duality.
“Canada is a modern country,” he says. “I like the fact that we have two basic cultures here.”
In his private life, Trottier says he’s still the same boy who began exploring technology through a ham radio set with a buddy. Only today, he’s fooling around with radio-controlled airplanes instead.
Please note that this conversation took place in 2017.
This episode of Unapologetically Canadian is brought to you by Thrive Themes.