‘Killing Marketing’ to Save It

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

Millennial marketing
“BMXr’s,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by micadew

The book “Killing Marketing,” the latest from Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose, says this: “We must kill marketing that makes a living from accessing audiences for short bursts of time so they might buy our product.”

It continues: “We must rebirth a new marketing that makes its living from building audiences for long periods of time, so that we might hold their attention through experiences that place us squarely in the initial consideration set when they are looking for a solution.

“This is the marketing of the future. It is achieving a long-term return on the one asset that will save our business: an audience.”

The book is wonderful — I highly recommend it. It’s chock-full of ideas about how to transform the marketing department from a cost center to a profit center. It details multiple ways to pull direct and indirect revenue from marketing, once true engagement with an audience has been established. In their words, it will transform your marketing into something more powerful than “the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make.”

But specific to the selection quoted above, for me it’s another spark of thought about the downside of personas based on demographics.

If you’re personas are demographic- lead rather than interest-led, then you’re setting yourself up for selling in short bursts of time. You’re not going to be able to establish a long-term relationship with an audience based on who they are and what they truly care about — because you simply won’t know what those things are. And you won’t create experiences that hold an audience’s attention for future consideration.

To truly build audiences for long periods of time, we need to start with interests and preferences rather than demographics.

To employ a far overused example …

Red Bull doesn’t define its audience as “Millennial males who want an energy drink.” The brand understands its audience by defining all of the facets of interests in a lifestyle of adventure — from edge (extreme) sports to music to fashion to travel and so on. And then Red Bull provides that audience with access to that lifestyle, through publications, events, social media content and more … and it sells some energy drinks, as well.

If Red Bull did the former (define a demographic), it would’ve been able to effectively place an ad for an energy drink on channels where Millennial males might be. And the brand would’ve sold some drinks, and perhaps captured some people who would continue to buy Red Bull through the years. But the brand affinity it would’ve created would’ve be thin, at best. And it’d be in a constant cycle of reloading short-term audiences. That’s a losing game.

Instead, Red Bull tilted toward the latter — personas based on interests. But … how did that happen?

Maybe the brand started with an idea like: “We see opportunity to engage the ‘extreme sports lifestyle audience regardless of age, location, etc.’ in a whole new, deeper way.” Or, perhaps Red Bull carefully observed its initial audience — the short-term customer audience it had when it first went to market with the drink — and asked questions like:

  • We see Millennial males are a big part of our initial audience, but what’s behind the demographic?
  • What commonalities does that portion of the audience share with the rest of the audience?
  • What is it that our audience — in aggregate — is telling us they care about most?
  • What information are they craving most?
  • And is anyone else providing that information? Access?

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. And most of the stories we hear about Red Bull’s content marketing successes don’t focus on the starting point of audience understanding. But I imagine it was more along the lines of not resting on an initial, demographic-lead audience understanding. I imagine the brand had a short-term audience, but decided it didn’t want to have to constantly reload. Good for Red Bull!

Smart marketers will take note and do the same. They’ll dig deep. They won’t rest on the easy, starting answer. They’ll get past the simple, demographic personas, and they’ll start thinking about interests that transcend demographic as the path to building a long-term, engaged audience.

In short: Demographic-led personas lead to decent targeting and short-term sales. Simple ROI. Interest-led personas lead to engagement and brand affinity for the long-term: Simple ROI plus customer lifetime value.