Note: Today’s guest post comes from Michael Zimmerman

The “old” marketing analogies were built on war references. Corporations, for example, have “headquarters,” where you will find “officers” who use “recon” to “gather intelligence” about what’s going on in “the front lines.” We choose which “weapons in our arsenal” will help us “capture” markets, and then we “attack” (while our competition “defends”). In the process, there may be “collateral damage.” When our sales reps complain, we “stir up the troops” and “give them more ammunition.” And if things get really bad, we “call in the big guns” and “broadside” the enemy. The trouble with these metaphors – other than their seeming fixation on gore – is that, in the process of “engaging” the competition, we view our market as an acquisition, not as a treasured friend, whom we would gladly serve.

The hunting metaphors are no better. We scold young marketers for using a “shotgun” when a “rifle” would be more effective. We “target” markets, “flush out” prospects and “run down” specific opportunities. And when we have a prospect “in our sights,” we “move in for the kill,” “pulling the trigger” on the deal and “bag” another one. Nope, hunting metaphors are no less bloody, and they still miss the most fundamental point of business – serving customers (and I don’t mean for dinner).

A better metaphor for marketing might be fishing – specifically catch-and-release fishing. Just look at the parallels. Fish swim in schools, and customers travel in tribes. Fish and customers both have cultures that exist within a complex, broader ecosystem. Both fish and customers pay close attention to the currents around them. Both are sensitive to changes in temperature and light. Both are skittish. Both can turn on a dime. Both seek out safe environments. Both are wary of aggressors. Both are more skilled at seeing you coming than you are at spotting them (and both can spot your line for what it is, almost as quickly as you cast it). Both are completely disinterested in you, until you provoke them. Both can put up quite a fight. And, of course, both are unwilling to be your next meal.

I could go on and on, but I’d lose readers (except for the most ardent fishermen in the crowd).

The point is this: Battle and hunting share the objective of killing your prey – not exactly a noble pursuit, when put in the context of customers. But catch-and-release fishing is about practicing your skill with lures, and that is exactly the key to successful marketing. What’s more, in an age of customer-driven media, success comes not from predatory domination, but from finding new ways to be noticed, and new ways to enchant. And retaining customers is not a matter of capturing them and restricting their freedom, but of promoting their liberty and continually finding new ways to lure them back. Today’s markets are about free will, not about domination. What’s that old saying? “If you really love your customers, let them go; if they come back, they’re yours forever; if they don’t, they never were in the first place.”

Michael Zimmerman is Senior Marketing Strategist at MarketPoint LLC, a consulting firm providing honest, insightful and effective brand and marketing guidance, for executives in business-to-business, education and nonprofit organizations.

photo credit: Bao Tri | Photography

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