The Ecosystem: Why is it needed?
Most companies don’t have an ecosystem. They have a broken approach to marketing. It doesn’t matter is the company is big, small are a newly incubated start up—you see a repeating pattern in the way they market themselves and the products. This is not too surprising, considering the environment they operate in. Most of these companies have their marketing setup steeped in the flux that exists in the nexus of old school marketing and new age media-and yes, I am calling Facebook and Twitter and their ilk “new age media”. The thought of the ecosystem doesn’t even arise.
The Horror Of Planning Meetings
What’s this approach? Stringing together campaign after campaign. Most marketers string together different campaigns on the basis of what they have done before – thinking that this is enough to blanket the market and make the ecosystem for their audience.
You can see where I’m going with this –this creates a dysfunctional loop for well-intentioned yet clueless marketers saying stuff like “we really need to think outside the box!”. The planning meetings with two or more such marketers ends up like a scene out of a dystopian movie where each line of dialogue seems pretty harmless on the surface but inexhaustibly drives the entire sense of dread and despair through the roof.
Some other dialogues from planning meetings are: – “Our targets are really high. We need to bump up our numbers for this quarter. Let’s do something that we’ve never done before and see if we can push these numbers up.” – “Our competition just launched their own campaign. We need to respond immediately.”
The Ugly Truth About The Traditional Approach
This approach to marketing has a fatal flaw—it does not work well on the ground. Here is ugly truth—as marketers, we do not put in as much time into planning as we would like to—or as we say we do.
We operate on extremely short timelines— either due to the way we work the response to market stimuli, the internal timelines set by our bosses and business demands or by virtue of our own incompetence. Take this scenario and amp it up by restricted budgets and you have the perfect steaming dog pile – not a well functioning, cohesive set of channels that form the ecosystem.
Speaking of budgets, most marketers feel that if they had big enough budgets they would be able to deliver above average results. This too is a product too much navel gazing and a disconnect with reality.
Based on discussions with many other marketers and drawing from my experience of running and advertising agency as well as working on the client side, budgets are never the problem. The ecosystem doesn’t need a lot of money. Once the bare minimum needed to match expectations is available, it’s not budgets, but the lack of imagination from the marketer’s side that causes most marketing efforts to fail.
By The Book Approaches aka Lack of Experimentation
The third, and by far the most insidious thing to afflict traditional marketing campaigns is the “We’ll stick to what works” mindset. Look, I get this. Everybody wants to save their job. It’s a tough world out there and we all have bills to pay. So, why risk a safe and stable job when we could get by by doing the bare minimum?
This thinking is not conjecture. These are actual thoughts that have run through my head – and countless others at the precipice of a momentous decision – to experiment or not. Experimentation involves risk, flying in the face of established tradition, stepping on people’s toes and admitting that you don’t know enough to be sure. You can see why this would be scary and daunting thing to do – and also one of the biggest reasons many brands don’t invest in the ecosystem approach.
Without experimentation, bad habits and shitty marketing campaigns will ensue. Worse, they will be registered as the default/right way of doing things. This is a bad thing.
Then, there’s the problem of the changing messaging. Customers in the market interact with a company on a multitude of touch points. They could see an ad online (if you do, get Ad Block Plus!). Then, they could see an ad on tv (if you do, get rid of your cable connection) or they might see an ad in the paper (if you do, get rid of your paper). And then, in the real world, they might even interact with other people (if you do, choose your friends/acquaintances wisely) who talk to them about the brand.
At one place, they would see an ad selling something for 40% off. Then, in another place, they would see a different message that pushes a special, time-bound offer. The third touchpoint tells them to try the better and newer product now. Each message changes according to the trigger – as opposed to a grand unified experience in the ecosystem.
That’s three different messages your customers have experienced from the time they took their morning dump to the time they sit at their office desk, trying to ignore the annoying, Monday morning gossip.
Due to the changing messaging, the audience is exposed to a number of different messages – leading to a situation where nothing sticks and no message is reinforced. Each message the customer is exposed to drives home a different message focusing on a different aspect of the product – and of a different narrative.
Consequently, the USP of the product doesn’t come out – and often the messaging ends up with something along the lines of a confused, schizophrenic brand that’s trying to covet both ends of the buying power spectrum. That’s stupid.
The conflict of messaging is symptomatic of a deeper problem When you see messages like “We’re the best!” and “We’re the cheapest!” in close proximity – i.e. within the confines of the brand’s messaging in a particular timeframe in a particular channel, you begin to wonder why you wanted the product in the first place. Did you want it because it’s cheap? Did you want it because it’s useful? Did you want it because it’s the best the market has to offer?
The moment you undergo such confusion, the delicate narrative that you built in your head to support your buying decision shatters. There are no products – other than cults and faith based organizations that can build strong enough narratives that can withstand this confusion. In a typical marketing scenario, something far worse happens – the narrative changes. It’s far more difficult to change a narrative than it is to build one from scratch. But, a well built ecosystem reinforces the story instead of cannibalizing it.
Fight Club’s Advice To Marketers
The traditional marketing approach also does not offer any avenue to build a relationship or trust with the audience. There’s no way to nurture the relationship by establishing rapport or by engaging in dialogue around a central topic with the audience.
In Fight Club, when Tyler Durden meets the narrator, they discuss the concept of single serving friends – friends who you meet today – on an airplane – and never meet them again. That’s the kind of relationships that exist/are formed in this environment. And in case you were wondering, Fight Club is the best fucking movie ever.
Amongst all these shortcomings, the worst is the fact that there’s no chance for us to have a dialogue with our audience. There’s no way for us to invest in building a relationship – because this is not a serious, adult relationship. The frenetic pace of this kind of interaction is akin to running after a three year old on a sugar rush.
From the perspective of business continuity, these kind of marketing efforts are forgettable. They are nothing more than a blip on the radar. They lack substance. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. Any reputation or presence built up is nothing but a cumulative series of disconnected impressions. This type of impression is very flawed and cannot be controlled. We can shape the impression we want for our brand.
Marketing departments around the world spend a lot of money in building their brands through organic and inorganic means. However, most often, they have nothing to show for all their efforts. They do not focus their efforts on building a long term asset – the ecosystem. Consequently, their effort dissolves into nothing and they end up starting from ground zero all the time. All the momentum they had built up during a marketing campaign dissipates as there’s no logical connection – a conduit, for them to lead on to the next campaign.
Marketers also spend a lot of time and money on the same things repeatedly – because they have nothing to build upon. All their efforts disappear like a drop of water on a hot tar road on a bright, sunny day.
To combat this flagrant waste of time, money and human effort, I propose an alternative.
A Marketing Ecosystem: The Alternative
I propose that marketers adopt the ecosystem based approach to marketing. This is a big step away from the traditional marketing approach as it takes a holistic perspective in contrast to the traditional piecemeal, fragmented efforts.
I am using it as the collective term for a collective ‘bubble’ that is formed by all the paid, owned and earned media under your brand. These different components – your website, your social media, your podcast, your customer service, the flyers you print and the rest, work together in tandem to build a cohesive experience for your audience.
To build this ecosystem is not a one-off effort – not something you do to temporarily boost this quarter’s numbers or something you do only for Christmas. This requires you to direct your effort, money and thinking to build this collective of long term assets. And more critically, you need to work to ensure that all these assets are interconnected. You cannot afford to have the different organs of your ecosystem operating in different directions – doing their own thing. You need to align all the communication, messaging and brand building and drive home the same message all across the board.
By doing this, you start building the ecosystem. This becomes the foundation of the most valuable long term asset for your brand. Once it’s done, it lasts for a long time – and because of the way it’s built, it lasts for a long, long time.
Building The Ecosystem
So how do you build it? Simple. Focus on sustained impact. It’s like we’re trying to push a car over a hill. It’s difficult work and you can’t afford to stop pushing until you get that critical velocity to clear the top of the hill. If you stop, you’re going to end back right where you started. But, once you’ve attained critical mass (pushed the car over the crest) it stays – and runs itself.
Similarly, you need to keep driving and pushing for a cohesive story – until the story takes hold. And once the story takes hold, you’re sorted. Everything you do will go ahead and reinforce the key message. The key thing – and the beautiful thing about the ecosystem approach is that the story permeates every point of the ecosystem. Independent of the the touchpoint, the customer’s experience is the same. Wherever they come from, they are exposed to the same theme/vein of messaging.
Adopting a mindset of long term gratification serves individuals and brands well too. It almost works like compound interest – particularly when a brand is involved. Investing in this long term relationship takes time and effort – and this time and effort shows others that we care. Every little bit adds up and over time, all the good will that we accrue, builds up. This essentially smooths things over and allows us to redouble our efforts into building the long term relationship – for financial gain. (Basically, if you do this, people will be kicking your door down – asking you to sell them stuff.)
Benefits of an Ecosystem
Apart from the long term relationship and easiness of selling, there are four other distinct yet related benefits that brands can gain:
- Reduced Spends: You don’t have to spend as much to get the same effect. Everything you have built – the ecosystem, acts as a feedback loop – amplifying your message and reflecting it to every part of your ecosystem. You also get better ROI on your marketing spends.
- Eliminating Confusion: You have a stronger, unified presence wherever your customers go. They experience the same benefits and messaging whether they go to your blog, your YouTube channel or get flyers from the college kid in the nearby mall.
- Making your tribe becomes easier: This ecosystem also acts as a litmus test to filter out who belongs – and who doesn’t in your audience. This filtration system gives a higher concentration of people who would buy from you.
- Understanding your customers better: This system is not a oneway street. Inevitably, you will hear from your customers – it’s impossible to build the system otherwise. This helps you form a strong bond – making selling to them easier in the long run.
Don’t stick to the traditional approach to marketing because that’s what you have. Go beyond. Adopt this and put the interests of your audience first. It’s a daring concept that’s not too widespread, but it has wonderful chances for success.