At the dawn of civilisation we survived by foraging for food and by tracking and killing it. Effective, up to a point, but very time-consuming and ultimately limited in the size of population it could sustain.
What we needed was a more efficient way of feeding ourselves. Mankind arrived at a crossroads. And in many ways I think the evolution of marketing has arrived at a similar point.
One fundamental issue for hunters was that most of the prey didn’t much care for the process of being hunted. Tasty animals went to great lengths to avoid their pursuers. Hours of tracking could be wasted by a careless noise that alarmed the animal or by a poorly aimed spear.
Gradually mankind got smarter and realised that cultivating food was a better and more efficient way to sustain a growing population. Less time spent hunting and gathering also meant they could build more complex societies, learn about things that didn’t revolve around the quest for the next meal, and invent things to make life easier.
Hunting didn’t cease overnight and, in fact, it still goes on. It just became less relevant and less significant. Only a few small, isolated tribes still get the majority of their food this way.
And perhaps marketing is at a similar stage of its evolution. Businesses are starting to understand that ‘hunting’ customers through traditional marketing techniques, advertising, cold calling and so on isn’t all that efficient. Many are learning to cultivate new customers by designing marketing plans that focus on publishing helpful and welcome content instead.
The hunter gatherer model
The hunter spends a lot of effort tracking down where to find their prey, learning their migration routes, where they like to feed, the water holes they use. A smart hunter might also use some kind of bait to lure their prey before launching their spear. But their aim has to be perfect or the opportunity is lost.
Gatherers are similarly restricted. Success is based on knowing where to find the best fruit bushes or vegetables and when to pick them. But ultimately you are restricted by what’s available in your foraging area and your ability to find it before somebody else.
The parallels with traditional marketing are easy to see. With a traditional model, market research tells us the most productive places to intercept (or interrupt) the activities of our quarry; and we become more successful by designing better spears (or campaigns), and learning how to throw them more accurately.
But it’s still hard work with an uncertain outcome.
The farming model
Instead of researching how to track animals, a livestock farmer learns what they like to eat, and how they need to be cared for. That way they can keep the animals in one place. For the beast there’s no incentive to avoid capture or to escape because you’re getting well looked after – life is easier.
Similarly, cultivating fields of the things you like to eat has to be better than going out and trying to find where they happen to occur. Creating fertile soil in which they can grow and providing the conditions where pollination happens more reliably will always be more productive.
Your marketing ‘farm’
Think of what this might mean for your marketing plan. If you want to cultivate rather than go hunting for customers, what should you do?
First, concentrate on understanding what your customers need for their own survival and well-being, and make sure you provide it. Your customers will be happier and more productive. Aim to nourish them with content that is easy to digest, a pleasure for them to consume and which helps them thrive.
If you want some ideas about how that content might look try this.
Second, cultivate communities like fields of corn by enriching the soil with helpful advice and insights. And let the insects of social media take care of pollination and propagation. Identify what business you want to grow and then create the most favourable conditions for that to happen – it has to be better than trudging around with a basket looking for the next fruit bush (or cold-calling).
And use networks like Google+ to improve your knowledge and understanding about how to make things grow and what your customers need.
In short, focus on the needs of your customers rather than the needs of your organisation. Feed your customers and you’ll get more food back in return.
Ultimately, that’s why I believe marketing is at a crossroads – just like the quest for food was for our ancestors thousands of years ago. Using content and social media to cultivate communities and customers will ultimately be more efficient and productive.
I’m sure some brands will continue to go hunting customers for some time – but they will become rarer and rarer. Who knows, one day they might even make documentaries about these isolated tribes teetering on the brink of extinction: The Lost Marketers of the Kalahari perhaps?
Richard Hussey, Copywriter, Blogger, Content Marketer
Circle me on Google+ and let’s carry on the discussion.