Don’t Cast A Wide Net, Build the Pond: Taking the Long-View in Customer Engagement

“Fish Where the Fish Are Swimming.”

It’s an old, oft-referenced axiom in Marketing. In essence: don’t waste your time casting a wide net. Focus your energy on finding where your customers are, and engage them in the perfect moment to hook and reel them in.

Sure, it’s catchy (we’re Marketers, after all). But shouldn’t we think bigger than that? Shouldn’t we as Marketers aspire to build something beyond the obvious ‘hooks’? Why not be more ambitious – and set our sights on building the pond itself instead?

Even without aspirational thinking, the new digital realities dictate that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate yourself from the myriad of other messages, and ‘hooks’, being cast by a growing pool of Online & Offline Marketers. Not to be overly dramatic (although, again, as Marketers that’s kind of our shtick), the fight for Consumer attention has never been more intense. Yet, oddly, it’s clear that the traditional focus of driving prospects and customers to an immediate action, or goal, persists as the default goal for most campaigns. While doing so often helps us hit our short-term objectives and targets, we end up missing out on an opportunity to create a deeper, broader, and more impactful engagement with our audience.

What strategies can I use to better engage my customers?

With the confluence of social tools and low-cost digital assets the connected Web has afforded us, Brands now have the ability, and imperative, to think beyond end-of-funnel metrics. Instead of simply driving prospects to sign-up for an offer, trial, or service, we should force ourselves to consider the long-view. Wouldn’t it be more impactful to provide our prospects with a destination, playground, or community in which they can engage, learn, and grow?

Decide for yourself. Take the example of a brand looking to break into a new segment, with a new target audience. To keep with the previously established aquatic theme of this blog, let’s assume this new audience is “Boating and Fishing Enthusiasts”.

Option 1: Old School, Find the Fish Approach

With this school of thought, you’re likely to see the following approach:

  • Find/Reach: Locate the new audience in various online communities or social networks geared towards boating and fishing topics – and target them with relevant offers through online ads and search campaigns.
  • Direct: Get the consumer to click-through to a targeted landing page to conversion, or collect more information about the prospect.
  • Follow-Through/Convert: In a B2C environment, the call-to-action may be geared towards immediate online conversion and getting the quick sale. In a B2B context, you may be more focused on setting up appointments to move the prospect through the pipeline as the next step. In either instance, the consumer will probably land in one of two camps:

1.) You’ve ‘hooked’ them and they become a hot lead or a sale, or….
2.) They unhooked themselves from the line – and now get lumped into the next round of retargeting campaigns.
3.) Repeat: See Step 1.

Option 2: New School, Build the Pond Approach

Here’s how things change with the more dynamic approach:

  • Find/Reach: You still want find the new audience through various online networks – but your offer is very different. While it still needs to be relevant, the offer can include online content or tools to better educate this audience (e.g. the latest strategies in fly fishing) – and it may not even be branded with your company’s name (pause for shock value). In many instances, we’ve found success in creating an online destination distinct from the Brand’s core website – to create a broader and more comfortable ‘pond’ for your audience to interact with you.
  • Direct: Instead of driving consumers to a one-off landing page, you’re driving them to an online destination that offers a variety of relevant content, tools, discussion forums and expert dialogue. Sure they may be able to find similar content on other websites, but you’ve got it all in one place.
  • Engage: Through this online community, not only are you capturing customer demographics but you’re also capturing usage data helping you to round out your customer profile. This platform enables a longer term relationship with the consumer by providing them with a range of interaction mechanisms such as:
    1.) A combination of regularly updated licensed and original content
    2.) A forum to communicate with other like-minded individuals and experts
    3.) Stickier tools like tide calculators or fish finder apps
    4.) Occasional live “Google Hangouts” featuring a well-known expert in the boating & fishing community
  • Follow-Through/Convert: Based on the newfound user data, you’ll be able to target each individual with more timely and relevant product offers. Over time, Consumers receive the right message at the right time in their buying process. As always, the consumer will have the option to become a hot lead or a sale, but if they don’t, you now have a safe place to ‘throw them back’ to until they are ready.

As an avid fly fishing enthusiast (just work with me here), which option would be more compelling to you? Which experience would you find more valuable – and be more likely to engage with?

While this is obviously a fictitious example, we’ve executed several similar programs for clients with much broader audience categories, across industries. And time and again, building the pond has proven to be the successful path in customer engagement.

(Side Note: let’s agree to never let our customers know we refer to them as ‘fish’)