The Secret to Good Marketing – Or, Going on a Bear Hunt

What is marketing, really? To me, it’s like the game we’d play in preschool–Going on a Bear Hunt (those of you who were not similarly blessed should check out the link to see what you’ve been missing). In this heroic quest, our three-foot selves encountered tall grass, rivers, mountains, you name it, and we had to surmount the obstacles in order to capture the bear. (Note that I have subsequently become an Overseer for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but that’s another story.) The mantra-like chorus: “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go around it.”

There’s a tendency to think of marketing as just another name for public relations–spin. You have a product and you find a clever way to sell people on it. That may be part of it, but I’d argue it should be the last and smallest part. Good marketing is the process of properly identifying your target, discerning their needs, unearthing the barriers they face, and–as in the bear hunt–finding clever ways to overcome those barriers so people will purchase your product or take up a new behavior. Gotta go around it, indeed.

A while back, I gave a guest lecture to the Eco-Ambassadors program at Tufts University. These valiant staffers and grad students are trying to get their peers to recycle more, use less paper, bike to work–all the good stuff. Sometimes the obstacle to eco-friendly living is attitudinal–folks don’t believe global warming is a threat, or don’t care. But often, it’s practical. Does the building have recycling? Is there a place to park the bike? Does the printer actually print double-sided or do you have to turn every page over yourself? Good marketing looks at structural challenges just as much as it addresses “messaging,” because you need both to be truly effective.

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.