The music director at my wife’s high school taught and led band for 40 years before he retired this summer. My wife, who twirled tall flags in the early 1990s for him, and I attended his retirement ceremony this past Saturday. The event was lovely. Hundreds of former students packed a large ballroom at a nice hotel to say thank you and goodbye.
Moreover, It was an amazing illustration of marketing in action.
There are several takeaways from the evening. First, there is a highly loyal group of people. After having this teacher for three years committed themselves to the community, and many made their careers working at the high school. Second, there is a slightly less engaged group. This group practiced over a month to recreate a marching band performance. Third, there is an extended group of former alumni who cared, but did not make any other commitment then coming. And finally there are the thousands upon thousands of other alumni who were informed, but did not attend.
Remarkably, the director remembered people and engaged them personally even though it may have been decades since he had seen them.
The event had four distinct, and somewhat overlapping audiences:
- The group of people that made it happen. This is similar to what Kevin Kelly calls true fans.
- A group that gave and were willing to help.
- A group that participated.
- The group that was asked to participate.
What is interesting is that each of these groups built upon each other. The group that made the event happen was also a part of the group that gave and helped. That group was part of the group that participated. And they were all part of the general group that was asked to participate. This is a common framework that exists naturally in human group dynamics, but seems to be missing from most marketing strategies.
Take a moment and think about the next group email you write. Most likely you are going to include folks in the distribution list who already know what you are informing them about. But you include them anyways. You would not exclude them, even if the content of the email is already known to them.
So why do we do that when we do mass marketing?
The reason, I believe, is the frameworks we use to build out our marketing strategy.
The Funnel Metaphor
The most common metaphor used to describe sales and marketing strategies is the funnel. A funnel is a common device with the sole function to move liquids quickly (or anything that flows), cleanly, and safely. It is a simple function, the liquid is collected in a large mouth, and directed through a small spout giving more focus and control to where the liquid goes. The metaphor is just as simple: marketing’s role is to find as many people as possible to talk to and through messaging, strategy, and communication move them down the funnel until they are an “ideal” type of customer.
The problem with this metaphor (and others agree there is a problem, but keep the funnel concept) is that it is neither complete nor accurate. First, the only way a funnel metaphor works is if there is an ideal customer. That is a prototypical profile and set of behaviors that you, as a company, want out of those you do business with. In practicality, many companies spend more time and effort trying to fill the funnel, then understanding their audience. Secondly, the funnel isolates audiences at specific states and encourages companies to tailor communication to each group separately.
There is, we believe, a better way.
Marketing by Building Blocks
Rather than look at marketing and audiences through the metaphor of a funnel, what if we looked at our audiences as building blocks?
The funnel metaphor does do a good job of helping companies identify commonalities in their customers and segment them into understandable groups. However, there is much more to maximizing your marketing efforts than understanding your audience.
The Marketing by Building Blocks concept is simple: each identifiable segment of your audience should be a block you build your strategy around, not a state you are trying to move them into to.