2 Thoughts On Mobilization vs. Marketing

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What’s that old line from retail giant John Wanamaker? (H/T Nicholas Tolson)

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

How do you know if your campaign worked until it’s too late?

You don’t know if your movie performed until it opens. You don’t know if your candidate won until election night. You don’t know if your product sold until it’s already on the production line.

What’s the right spend? How do I measure success? What if my timing is off? What if I miss my audience?

There are too many mysteries in marketing.

What is our typical response? We hire experts. We go with those with the biggest clients. We spend more. We look at impressions and social metrics and audience reactions.

And if it works, marketers will take the credit for your success. If it doesn’t, marketers blame the product, the content, or the candidate — anything but their own ineffectiveness.

It’s the same ol’ game. Despite new tools and tricks, it’s been that way for a long time.

Marketing is broken. Don’t let those who “win” from time to time tell you differently. Deep down they know that their success had more to do with gut and timing, some hard work, and a good idea than any predictable strategy that can be replicated again. Just ask most one-hit wonders in tech or music or start-ups. Most never have a hit again.

There are several reasons why we believe marketing is broken, such as

  1. Failure to recognize that audiences are more fragmented, segmented, and distracted than ever.
  2. Loss of universally shared cultural moments and icons.
  3. The most cluttered marketplace in history.
  4. Using old strategies over and over again because new strategies are risky.

These are some of the reasons we’ve talked a lot about mobilization rather than marketing over the past fourteen years.

What is mobilization?

The strategy of organizing a certain number of people (the magic number needed to get elected or profitable or a movie to the top of the charts) to do the same thing around the same time in the same way.

With mobilization, there’s a goal in mind and everyone knows it. You celebrate and you commiserate together. You know whether you won or you lost. Mobilization is very clear about the objective: the goal is to make this song #1, this number of wells dug for those who need water, this app trend on the app store, this book hit the bestsellers list.

With mobilization, there’s a measurement along the way, not just after the fact. You know if people are signing on, participating with you, contributing to the success of the project — not only because you have ways that invite such activity, but because the entire idea of mobilization rests on that premise. It sounds obvious because it is: you cannot mobilize people without having people to mobilize.

With mobilization, you’re not consumed (spending time, spending money, chasing leads, chasing ideas) with audiences that are not within your plan. In marketing, the spray and pray mentality is try to get as many people as possible with as little money spent as possible. Here, mobilization is about knowing your audience on Day One … then over time bringing them together to do that one thing together at the same time. The funnel (Seth Godin’s idea) is flipped. You may start wide but in the end, you are compressing and intensifying the core consumer — they become the drivers of success.

Here’s an example from the movie business. How many people does it take for a movie released on 600 screens to be successful? (And by successful we mean: 1) hold theaters, 2) expand footprint, 3) generate a high per-screen-average). You’d be surprised how many producers and distributors don’t know the answer.

Let’s do some basic math. If we aim for a $5000 per screen average (very strong) across 600 theaters with the average ticket at $8 … well … that is … carry the one … yep, that’s $3m gross, and roughly 375,000 people attending opening weekend. That means 625 people attending each theater to see that movie over Friday, Saturday, and Sunday showings. Let’s say there is 12 showings over the weekend … that is roughly 50 people in each auditorium at each showing in each theater.

Our point is NOT that such a task is easy. It’s very difficult. The point is that your goal, your primary objective — if that’s your target number — is to get 625 people to show up to a theater over a weekend. That is mobilization. If you get 700, good on you. If you get 300, well, something missed. You care about one thing only: how to get 50 people in every show.

Mobilization utilizes the many effective tools and tactics of marketing, but with a big twist. It is about rallying people toward something that benefits them, their tribe, and the “product.” It’s unifying. Collaborative. Concrete. Publicity now has a different aim. As does social and even advertising. Awareness becomes important but only if it acquires a new voter or donor or ticket-holder or fan.

Imagine how that would change the way you “market” your next project.

You’d hire agencies that give you real data and performance metrics — that show you hit your KPMs.

You may even hire agencies that only participate in the back-end, that have skin in the game, and that count on you doing well so they can do well.

You’d spend more time researching your audience.

You’d spend resources and time wisely.

You’d ignore “good ideas” that in the end are just distractions.

You’d celebrate the small wins that add up quickly.

In fact, you’d actually know how to define a win — rather than some notion of what others may think — and you’d be able to celebrate with everyone involved because they, too, would know they helped make it happen.

So there it is: two reasons mobilization is likely a better way to view your next campaign.

  1. You know when and how to celebrate, because you know the goal — your goal — which is measured and managed according to what you need to win.
  2. You aren’t wasting time and resources chasing after stuff that may look good and feel good but doesn’t do a lick of good in the end.

As audiences and consumers continue to splinter, and as content-production increases, and old marketing doesn’t live up to all of its’ promises … as niches of fans and like-minded people desire to come together to do things that are meaningful to them … as dollars are harder to come by … mobilization, not marketing, will be the answer.

What’s a good example of mobilization in your industry or career?

©Aspiration Entertainment, 2020

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