Fishing with the Wrong Lure

Went fishing, some years back, with a close friend and colleague. We talked through the morning about a marketing challenge he was facing. His CEO was pressing for a formalized marketing strategy, and he “just wanted to bounce a few ideas” off of me.

As he shared his plans for the coming year, a black hole emerged. “Our sales numbers look good through the end of the year, so we just plan to do more of the same next year. 20% more activity should yield 20% more revenue, right?”

Maybe not. Missing from his analysis were several bits of marketing intelligence: How big are your markets? What’s your percent of saturation in those markets? What do you know about the decision-makers in each of your market segments? What are you doing to reach out to the unserved portion of the market? And on and on…

But the oversight that struck me hardest was an assumption he never would have made as a fisherman.

“Imagine that you’ve been fishing this lake for lake trout, three years running, and you’ve had a good bit of luck. By now, you’ve probably figured what type of lure works best for you… So if I were to ask you what your plans were for the rest of the fishing season, you’d probably say, ‘More of the same.’

“But let’s suppose that someone introduced a small population of bass in this lake several years ago, and that the bass have been feeding on the same species normally eaten by lake trout. And assume that the bass have been winning – so much so that their population is now four times greater than the lake trout. Would you still go fishing for the trout? And would you still use the same lure?”

“Nope,” he said, “I’d be more interested in the bass,” and of course, that might mean different lures.

Exactly. The problem with “business-as-usual” marketing is that it assumes a constant or growing population with consistent behaviors. And neither is necessarily true… which is exactly why it’s not enough to keep doing what you’ve always been doing. A good marketing plan is built on intelligence. “More-of-the-same” customers may be a declining population. What’s worse, they may be the wrong population entirely. Marketing is about possibilities.