If you want to understand what the future of marketing could look like and how to be successful at it, I have found the book for you. It is PryoMarketing
by Greg Stielstra. I was fortunate to be speaking at the Mountain Travel Symposium last week -- the end-of-year get-together for the ski and mountain travel industry -- and got to hear him speak. It was the first time that I have heard someone truly make sense of what is behind social or word-of- mouth marketing, and present a very practical approach to making these techniques work in the field. It was refreshing to hear this.
Over the past 15 years, I have heard hundreds of people talk about the decline of mass media and mass marketing and present theoretical frameworks for what the future of marketing might be. However, Stielstra spoke not just as a marketing theorist, but as a practitioner as well. He is the senior marketing director for books at Zondervan, the world's largest publisher of Christian books. He was the marketing guru for The Purpose-Driven Life, which sold more than 22 million copies and is reportedly the best-selling book in American history (except for the Bible, of course).
What did Stielstra say? Well, he started with a pretty effective metaphor for why mass marketing no longer works. Simply put, consumers today are drowning in product choices, media choices and ads. And, unfortunately, many of the very tactics that marketers are employing to cut through this clutter -- putting more ads in more places or using sensationalism or shock to get ads noticed -- is backfiring and making consumers more resistant to, and even resenting, advertising in general.
What is his strategy for overcoming this flood? He used another pretty effective metaphor here as well -- fire. Stielstra's view is that marketers need to think about their work in connecting their products and services with consumers like fire. It is the strategy that he used to help make The Purpose-Driven Life a massive bestseller. Here is his four-step plan and how he has used it:
Gather the driest tinder. Marketers should start first by focusing only on their very best target customers, those most likely to buy, who like the product and want to tell their friends and acquaintances about it. Much like starting a campfire, marketers should not try to light a bunch of thick logs all at once (I come from the mountains of western Pennsylvania, so I understand this). Instead, they should take great care to find the smallest and most "ignitable" audiences first. You need to find receptive consumers with powerful affinity networks. For The Purpose-Driven Life, since it was an inspirational book about faith, Zondervan focused first on 400 ministers around the country who had already been using sermons prepared by the author.
Touch it with a match. Once the target audience has been collected, marketers need to deliver a product experience to these folks. This doesn't mean hammer them with ads. It means creatively find ways to get your products into these best prospects' hands so that they can experience it. For The Purpose-Driven Life, the publisher sent those 400 ministers copies of the book, together with teaching plans tied to the book and offers to sell the book in bulk to their parishioners at cost. The 400 ministers distributed 400,000 books this way.
Fan the flames. Once the tinder has caught fire -- or the target audience has experienced the product -- you need to help the fire grow. You need to give these consumer tools to evangelize the product. For The Purpose-Driven Life, Zondervan helped the ministers create and lead daily discussion groups with their parishioners. In this case, 400,000 folks participated in daily discussions for 40 days, with each session tied to the book's 40 chapters, as per the teaching plans. This immersive experience created a mass of extraordinary book evangelists. Within months, the book made it to the USA Today Bestseller List, where it spent more than 100 weeks.
Save the coals. Once you have captured satisfied customers, don't lose them. Don't let the flame go out. Much as you save some hot coals for the next day's fire, you need to capture key customer contact information so that you can easily reach these folks again to sell more products to them in the future. For The Purpose-Driven Life, the publisher found that a large number of customers were buying the book in bulk and giving them away to friends. So, rather than just prospecting for new book buyers, the company continued to market to its core buyers, who kept buying more and more books.
Will reading PyroMarkarketing change your life, much like The Purpose-Driven Life is claimed to have done for many of its readers? Probably not. I appreciate that there is a very real difference between sending someone a book and offering them an online advertising technology. But will reading it make you a better marketer and make you much better prepared for the future? I certainly think so.