Rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Scientologists 1 Chuggers 0

Out Christmas shopping over the last couple of weeks I've seen two groups of people trying to get money from strangers. One of them is using a much better strategy than the other. One group is the so called 'Charity Muggers', or chuggers for short - the bib clad agents hired by major charities to accost strangers in the street and charm them into signing up for a monthly donation. They operate in packs of about four and it's quite a job to get past them without being spotted. On a quiet day in Lewes I was practically chased by one of them. Twice. Maybe this aggressive style of marketing is seen as unavoidable in a world where there are so many people demanding our attention, but the charities that use it are burning through their social capital, and in a competitive market for attention, chugging won't maintain its advantage for long.

The other group is the scientologists. I hadn't seen the Brighton section out on the streets for some time, but they've been out every day over the Christmas shopping period. They have a couple of tables set out in front of their offices by Churchill square, with a sign reading 'Free stress test', and people are sitting down to talk to them. Voluntarily. Imagine that! People come to you and give you five, ten, fifteen minutes of their time. They're interested in what you're offering and pay attention to what you have to say.

The scientologists' strategy is an example of what Seth Godin has termed permission marketing. In your first contact with a stranger you shouldn't try to sell your ultimate product, you should offer them something for free, like the stress test. That's already qualified your potential customer as someone who might have an interest in your product. The attention your free offer has bought you is then used to sell the next meeting, and that one the next, in a series of exchanges over which you educate your potential customer about your product. It's a much more focused approach than the scattershot techniques of the chuggers and most of mainstream marketing. It takes longer to see results, but you've developed a relationship with your customers where they expect to hear from you and actually want to be sold to.

Perhaps the nature of their product has put evolutionary pressure on the scientologists marketing strategy. It must be a lot easier to get people to give money to save the baby seals than it is to convince them of the merits of joining a UFO cult. It suggests an interesting avenue for research - difficult products produce the best marketing - though I'm not sure I want to investigate too far!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Site update

As part of my new marketing drive I've updated my website. The recent work section has been updated and I've rewritten most of the descriptive content. I've tried to change the focus to what other people think is important rather than what I find technically interesting. I've given it a bit of a makeover too. It's still all on one page. If it gets much bigger I'll split the sections into seperate areas and put it all into a CMS, perhaps with a one page summary for printing.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Marketing myself

Recently I read the online book The Bootstrappers Bible (pdf). It's a short (100 pages) readable guide to bootstrapping a small business. One thing it highlighted to me is how absolutely essential it is for me to keep marketing myself, and to do that first, before doing anything else. It doesn't take a genius to work out that marketing is important, but for me it's always come second place behind improving my technical knowledge and ability. I used to take the cautious approach of learning absolutely everything I could about a language / technology / product before starting any paid work using it. I now believe that this is far far to cautious. My own experience, if I listen to it, tells me that I learn more and faster working on a challenging project for a client than I ever do from studying alone without a clear goal. Also, until I've actually talked to a client I don't know if what I'm learning / writing is what they want. I'm not saying that I should give up studying alone, or take on projects I know nothing at all about, just that if I let the breaks off a little it will get a bit scarier, but I'll have more success.

So, fired up with the motivation to get serious about marketing I've done a little research. I've looked at marieting books before, and they were terribly dry and difficult to apply. This time I've found a couple that I think I can get on with. I've ordered Permission Marketing and the followup Unleashing the Ideavirus. They should arrive tomorrow. Both deal with the idea of marketing through word of mouth. The New York Times has a related story The Hidden (in Plain Sight) Persuaders. I'm attracted to this idea of marketing as a conversation, rather than an interruption. It fits rather well with the ideas in the Cluetrain Manifesto which states that the spread of the internet is transforming the marketplace and the workplace from a top down command and control heirarchy into a network of peers.