Marketing success means being invited to the island

marketing success

marketing success

A few years ago I vacationed in the Cycladic Islands of Greece. It was a thrilling trip and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

However, it also inspired a marketing lesson. Of course. I am so weird that way.

These exotic islands were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and have a similar landscape and climate. They are so close together that you can normally see neighboring islands from any ocean vista.

And yet, they are all so different! Over the years, each tiny island developed its own micro-culture of food, art, history, customs, and stories that are an endless source of local pride. You could visit 25 islands and find 25 fascinating micro-cultures.

And, that is a depiction of our modern customer world, as well.

The Like-Minded Islands

Technology has allowed our customers to self-organize into like-minded islands. The islands are unique places of love, support, shared values, and community pride. They are populated by friends, families, trusted experts, and maybe even a few visitors known as “influencers.”

Like inhabitants of any small island, communication travels quickly, there is a strong shared history, bonds of trust, and a wariness of strangers. For fun, most people travel back and forth to nearby islands to visit friends with other shared interests.

Businesses are desperate to be invited to these clannish consumer islands. They’re convinced the islanders would buy their goods and services if they would only give them a chance.

In the days before the formation of the Like-Minded Islands, businesses loved mass marketing. This meant companies would:

  • Send unwanted newsletters
  • Litter the landscape with tons of direct mail pieces
  • Bother customers with endless email blasts
  • Interrupt their day with automated telephone calls
  • Spend millions of dollars on content customers are far too busy to read
  • Create snappy social media images hoping customers would “engage”
  • Interrupt their entertainment with repetitive ads

Now that the islanders are in control and can determine who can come on to their island, none of this works any more. Who would want that stuff? In fact, these clever islanders are even developing technology to block and drown-out every un-wanted interruption. Some of it still leaks through, but it’s only a matter of time that people will be able to peacefully live their lives without annoyances from bothersome marketers.

What should a marketer do? Some are still clinging to advertising and the old ways since they have done that for decades. It’s familiar. They may fly over the island with a banner ad hoping somebody will look up and notice. But by and large, things are far too busy and interesting on the island for anybody to care. It’s just noise.

Ask the islanders

Let’s take this one step further. What if we asked the islanders what our businesses would have to do to earn an invitation to the Like-Minded Islands? What would they tell us? It might be something like:

  • Be a friend. Fit in and belong. Be useful.
  • Respect our time, our freedom, our privacy.
  • Come alongside us and be there when we need you.
  • Show us that you share our values, even if it makes you unpopular on other islands. If we’re going to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to us.
  • Be a great neighbor and help us even when we’re down. Especially when we’re down.
  • Create some fun experiences that show us what life is like beyond our limited view of this island.
  • Don’t just tell us you’re great and you belong here. We want to see it — here and now on this island. That is the only thing we’ll believe.
  • Never, ever, interrupt us, annoy us, or show up uninvited. That’s just rude.

This is a pretty rational and realistic perspective, isn’t it? It suggests an approach to marketing success that is sensitive to human values and community needs.

Our marketing is not our marketing

Here is a magical and glorious reality. If you’re invited to an island, your “marketing” can stop. Once you belong, the islanders do your “marketing” for you. They tell their family and friends how cool and helpful you are. They’re seen around the island hanging out with you. You’re part of the daily routine. The islanders will stick with you and fight for you even if you are attacked by competitors.

In this new consumer world, marketing success no longer controlling any “sales funnel” or “customer journey.” The best we can hope for is to be part of a conversation that leads to an invitation to an island.

Marketing success on the islands

Look at your own company. Is your marketing more closely aligned to the top list of tactics or the bottom list? If you’re still doing the same sort of interruptive marketing you did 10 years ago, or even two years ago, you’re on a slow road to obsolescence.

My view is that marketing is so expensive and ineffective for many companies because they’re clinging to the past, the top list.

Becoming “locked-in” to marketing tactics like these that may not work any longer might be due to outdated agency relationships, organizational resistance, cultural obstinance, lack of skilled leadership, relentless bureaucracy … or some combination of all these factors.

But the undeniable fact is, we must transcend whatever obstacles are in our way and adopt a radical new mindset because the customers are in control.

Welcome to the islands.

These ideas are explored more deeply in my book Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Original photo from Santorini by the author.

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