What is ‘Sonder’ and Why Should You Care?

Seth Godin says designing your business event the way you'd like to experience it yourself is a flawed approach

Author: Michelle Russell       

“Sonder” is a word that comes up several times in Seth Godin’s new book This Is Marketing, because it’s central to his message that empathy is at the heart of marketing. In the book, Godin — a PCMA Convening Leaders featured speaker — defines “sonder” as “that moment when you realize the everyone around you has an internal life as rich and conflicted as yours.”

That realization is important for marketers, Godin writes, because “we have little chance of doing marketing to others, in insisting that they get with our program … It’s so much more productive to dance with them instead.”

When I interviewed Godin, I asked him to explain how sonder would work for event professionals.

“So what it means is that everyone has a noise in their head,” he said. “And before I heard that word it was easy to think that I was the only person that had a noise in my head. Once you realize that everyone has a noise in their head, it’s a lot easier to be empathetic. And this practical empathy of ‘I don’t know what you know. I don’t need what you need. I don’t want what you want — and that’s okay’ is critical. Because if you want someone to trust you enough to spend three days of their life, plus their company’s money, to come meet a bunch of strangers and interact a certain way, it’s very tempting to say: ‘And we need to do it exactly the way I want it to be done, the way I would want it for me.’

“But in fact, the people you are serving — when there are hundreds or thousands of them — all have a different set of physical requirements, expectations, needs, fears, and desires. And the only way to reach them — the only way to make change happen for them — is to go where they are, because they’re not going to come emotionally to where we are unless we give them a really good reason.”

Since we can’t hear the noise in everyone else’s head, how can we figure out what they want? The first step is the “generous act of accepting that others don’t want, believe, or know what we do,” Godin writes. And then we need to observe — “we can watch what they do,” he says, “and make some guesses.”

More from the Seth Godin interview.


In the spirit of #GivingTuesday, here’s how you can give back by supporting Beverly’s Birthdays, which provides birthday cheer to homeless children and newborn essentials for moms-to-be in the Pittsburgh area. It’s among the PCMA Education Foundation holiday season initiatives.

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