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Does Your Marketing Resemble Gardening Or Fishing? How Your Approach Can Make Or Break You

By June 25, 2012June 26th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Does Your Marketing Resemble Gardening Or Fishing? How Your Approach Can Make Or Break You

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.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Adrienne says:

    Amen to that Linda. It’s the same old saying to never put all your eggs in one basket. When that basket tumbles and everything falls out, you’re screwed. No easy way to put it.

    I’ve been doing a lot of relationship marketing online and even though it’s a slower process, it’s a lasting one. Just like you mentioned here about those 10 customers sharing your product with their friends through word of mouth, the same goes with building these lasting relationships.

    People prefer to work with and purchase from people they know, like and trust so it’s worth your time to cultivate those relationships and continue moving your business in the right direction. In the end, the little guy will win. I love to think so anyway.

    Thanks for sharing, love this analogy and Chris and Steve look like they’re having a blast. Hope they caught a lot.


    • You said it, Adrienne – I think the best way to handle your eggs is to put about 6 dozen in just as many baskets 🙂

      I agree with Linda on this one and I also learned this lesson the hard way. I had a “big fish” and when that fish cut budget, that hurt! Live and learn, I make sure I’ve got a lot of options these days!

  • Hello Linda,

    Your post made me think of a friend of mine who is promoting his first hardcover book. I was just telling him the other day that he should absolutely not neglect any slightest interest in his book even if it’s someone “small”.

    You just never know who is going to be important to you or not. Sometimes if you try to judge you might well be wrong. Catching a big fish is all well and good, but lots of little fish can’t be neglected, can it?
    Thanks for this great post, Linda 🙂

    • Great advice to your friend, Sylviane! You never do know how someone can help you – even if they refer you to their friends. Lots of happy customers (and in the case of your friend, readers) makes for a very stable foundation for your business!

  • donna_tribe says:

    Great analogy Linda! We cannot put all our eggs in one basket in any type of business. To me business looks like a spider. The body is my blog which is my central hub. Then there are the legs that reach out to the social platforms in relationship marketing. Some legs are affiliates, some teaching tutorials.
    When it comes down to it, if one platform fails, there are others to rely on.
    Thanks for a wonderful article,

    • What an interesting analogy, Donna. I never thought of it like that but it’s a good one. In fact now you’re making me think of those creepy bugs with a million legs. ew! Not my favorite insect but when it comes to business, having a million legs on the ground is probably a good thing!

  • Sonia says:

    Awesome post. I love to fish myself so this was right up my alley. I use to work for a dot com start up and they did exactly that. We were competing with the big telecom companies and we landed a big contract with AT & T and they taunted them as the “big fish”. We hired 7 new customer service reps and anticipated an additional 2 million customers. The company made it seem like we hit the jackpot and everyone thought the same thing too.

    What a joke it was when they announced the big “deal” that it turned out to only be a farce. AOL bought the company and laid everyone off. They had customers already and they were building their business slowly. Once they went after the big fish, they failed miserably. I never forgot that lesson and know that in order to maintain sustainability you must not put all your eggs into one basket.

    On a side note, he looks nothing like Babe Winkelmen.

    • Sonia, sounds like you know exactly how badly the “fishing” approach can be from experience. Live and learn, and hopefully some people will learn first! On a side note, I know you’re the fisher-woman among us, but I had no diea who babe was and had to look it up. lol… and now I’m smarter 🙂