If you love to fish, you probably look forward all winter to casting out and waiting for the tug on the line that starts the fun. You never know what’s on the other end, but you also can’t count on going home with anything at all.
This is why when it comes to marketing hooking the big fish should not be your primary goal.
Consider two hypothetical companies. White Whale is a profitable business whose product leads the market. Its charismatic founder landed a fat government contract. Not only does WW neglect marketing, it doesn’t bother updating its product or providing excellent service. If a small customer leaves, it doesn’t blink, especially if the customer was a demanding one. Why should it? The government contract gives White Whale the steady income every entrepreneur dreams of. The owners spend much of their time—you guessed it—sport fishing off the coast of their beach home.
Along comes a competitor, Rose Garden, which introduces a product. RG invests time to make its offerings outstanding and studies the competition, seeking ways to differentiate itself and its brand. It strives to engage its market through its website, social media channels and advertising. It experiments, analyzing what works best. Yet business is growing slowly. Rose Garden lacks huge standing orders and although it’s well capitalized, its reserves are being depleted faster than revenues are coming in.
Which will last? On the surface, White Whale, but what if its major contract is reduced or cut? It’s completely dependent upon one customer and its customer base is narrower than Rose Garden’s, though it earns more. RG, in contrast, is steadily building customer relationships, a foundation for stability.
White Whale is prospering not because it’s doing things right, but because it’s caught a big fish.
But catching a big fish isn’t enough.
If White Whale loses that big fish, as happens all the time, it’ll sink fast. It failed to develop its product lines, to search out new customers and retain existing ones–to till the soil. It will need another big catch right away to replace the one that got away. Its expenses are too high to build its revenues back up slowly.
Many business owners think they need just that one big break, that one mega-account, or with non-profits, a really generous donor, and they’ll be set, but this is magical thinking. Nonprofit executive Alan Karmin, who’s raised millions of dollars for the Red Cross, Literacy Volunteers of Somerset County, Bloomfield College and Easter Seals, said, “I’d rather have ten $100 donations than one $1,000 donation.” He could cultivate the ten donors, he explained, because there’s growth potential in each donor, no matter how small. I’ll add that small donors or customers can also provide positive word of mouth, that golden publicity.
Fishing can be thrilling, but it’s too risky for smart marketers. Gardening is closer to the reality of the successful businesses that I see. Thriving businesses that can go the distance plant many seeds, water, feed, mulch, prune and weed–all the tedious, time-consuming tasks that may not be fun, but will pay off later. Of course, you can do both. But fishing alone will not sustain you.
Keep seeding and weeding. Don’t chase the white whale.