21. The Marketing Process in Detail I

Recall that the point of activism is to influence people to get them to change their behavior in a way that you desire. Influencing people is not easy, mainly due to the “fear factor” discussed earlier, and the best route to success is usually to focus your marketing and sales efforts, especially early in a campaign, on those customers who are most likely to buy.

Many activists don’t get this. They either go after random (not targeted) customers, or tough ones in preference to easy ones. The former is often due to a lack of knowledge about marketing, while the latter is often due to bad strategy (i.e., inept marketing) or even a misplaced desire to be “challenged.” You should always focus on easy customers, however, particularly at the early stages of a campaign, for these reasons:

• It makes marketing and sales much less stressful.

• It helps raise your success rate and boost your morale.

• It lets you practice your pitch on those customers who are most likely to be tolerant and forgiving of your mistakes.

• Your easy customers, once sold, can help you sell to the tougher ones. As discussed in the last chapter, people often find it very persuasive when they see someone who they think is like them embracing a product.

At each stage of a campaign, therefore, you should focus on the easiest subset (or market segment) of customers. Once you are consistently selling into that segment, you can then divert some of your attention and resources to the next segment: customers who are a somewhat harder sell than Segment 1. You continue that process through Segments 2, 3, 4, etc., never abandoning the easier segments until you’ve made all the sales you think you can make in them—until, in marketing parlance, you have “saturated the market.”

This is true for all activism, by the way. It’s true even if you follow Abigail Kelley Foster’s dictum to “go where you are least wanted.” Even in that lonely, frightening place, there will still be some segment of customers who are more likely than all the others to buy your viewpoint, and those are the customers you should start with. In a union campaign they could be employees who are parents of young children and who need better health insurance. In an electoral campaign, it could be people with a need for the types of improved public services your candidate is promising to deliver. In a vegetarian campaign, they could be loving pet owners who only need a little encouragement to widen their circle of compassion to include farmed animals.

How to Segment

Segmenting is easy, really: you let your potential customers do it for you. Talk to a diverse set of them and ask them to tell you about themselves: who they are, what their situation is, what their thoughts are about your cause, and, especially, what their needs are. Ask them without pressuring them how likely they would be to sign on to your viewpoint, and the reasons for their willingness or reluctance to do so. Then ask for their advice on how you should sell your viewpoint to people like them.

After several discussions, you should start to have a good sense of:

1. Who is in the most “pain” from the status quo, and therefore could be most likely expected to embrace change.

2. What specific messages and framing of your viewpoint would be most likely to encourage those people to take the action you desire.

That pain referred to in the first point, by the way, could be economic, emotional or even literal physical pain. An example of the last would be someone whose employer isn’t providing health insurance and who can’t afford to see her doctor when she needs to.

Segmenting is an art more than a science. Marketing expert Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm (see Bibliography), says you do it using “informed intuition” based on your historical and experiential knowledge of which people in which situations are most likely to want to sign on to your cause. The crucial thing is that you confirm your hunches using market research, including talking with your customers. There are other types of market research, including trends analysis and demographic analysis, but getting first-hand input directly from your customers is by far the most valuable.

When You Let Your Customer Do the Talking . . .

What you’re doing, really, is letting your customers design your marketing and sales campaigns for you—under your oversight, of course. This clever strategy accomplishes four very positive things:

1. It takes a lot of the uncertainty and guesswork out of marketing and sales.

2. It saves you a lot of time, money and stress.

3. It helps you create an absolutely killer campaign.

4. It makes the customers you’ve been talking with partners in your effort. They will be your very first customers, and you won’t even have to sell them because you will have let them sell themselves. And then they’ll help you sell to others . . .

This is powerful, powerful magic. It is also a very progressive methodology: you are not acting “on” your customers, after all, but acting in partnership “with” them. You are treating them not as stereotypes or passive targets, but as individuals worthy of compassion, consideration and respect.

You don’t let your customers make all the decisions for your campaign, of course: it’s still your campaign and you need to take responsibility for it. But you should carefully consider everything they say, and only deviate from it with good reason.

The big mistake activists and other marketers make is that they don’t ask their customers, they tell them. This may be from ignorance, shyness, fear of rejection, or arrogance. Even the most experienced activist is likely to screw up if he doesn’t get his customer’s input, however—and most experienced activists wouldn’t make that mistake anyway.

Talk with your customers. Or, more precisely, listen to them. That’s your main job as an activist. As Saul Alinsky writes in Rules for Radicals:

[The organizer] is constantly moving in on the happenings of others, identifying with them and extracting their happenings into his own mental digestive system and thereby accumulating more experience. It is essential for communication that he know of their experiences. Since one can communicate only through the experiences of the other, it becomes clear that the organizer begins to develop an abnormally large body of experience. (Italics added.)

In Bridging the Class Divide, Linda Stout tells how, during the Vietnam War era, she struggled to have her Quaker “Meeting” (the Quaker equivalent of a congregation) provide a counseling service for young men who wished to be conscientious objectors or otherwise avoid the draft. A couple of members of the Meeting objected, including an African-American man who disagreed with the idea of advising people on how to break the law. Because Quakers use a consensus decision-making process in which a single “No” vote can stop a proposal, this man was able to single-handedly block the counseling service. Stout writes:

I was horrified that someone could come in and stop the work. . . . I brought it up constantly at every business meeting and would argue about it. In anger, I finally decided to give up and not raise the subject again. . .

There was another person at the Meeting retreat who had studied the history of the Quakers. . . . He said Quakers had struggled with the issue of breaking the law when they decided to teach Charleston slaves to read and write. He pointed out that Quakers had taught Nat Turner how to read and write when it was illegal to help any slave become literate. Afterwards, this African-American man decided he would no longer block my efforts to organize a military draft counseling service. . . .

. . . [T]hat retreat taught me an important lesson in patience and about people’s processes of change. I learned how important it was to hear people’s concerns and fears, instead of challenging them with my beliefs. I also discovered the importance of education—especially a knowledge of history—in helping people gain a context for their beliefs and learn to make connections. Most of all, I saw the need for us to really listen and share our personal feelings with each other.

There is no substitute for talking one-on-one with a few members of your audience while planning your campaign. Every conversation will be like gold, filled with valuable insights and tips that will help you design a more effective campaign. Some conversations may even wind up upsetting you: for instance, if someone tells you that you’re making the wrong assumptions or thinking about things the wrong way. This is painful but wonderful! Better to learn it now than later on, after you’ve invested your heart, soul, time and money into a failing campaign. It’s never pleasant to hear that you’re on the wrong track, but it is the mark of a professional that (a) she seeks out people who can give her a strong and informed critique of her plan, and (b) when she does get some useful criticism, she grits her teeth, shelves her ego, and makes the required changes.

Conversational Pointers

Here are some pointers for holding your conversations:

• Be sure to talk with a diverse range of people, and not simply those whom you are most comfortable around or who are most like you. Otherwise, you are almost guaranteed to miss out on important information, and you might even miss out on learning about an unexpected market segment that is strongly receptive to your message.

• Remember: at this stage you shouldn’t be actively trying to sell to the people you’re talking to. That’s because you haven’t yet established the positive relationship needed for someone to feel comfortable buying from you, and any effort you make to sell is likely to backfire. Your goal at this stage is simply to ask questions and listen respectfully to the answers. The wonderful thing is that, by doing so, you are establishing the very relationship you will later need to make the sale.

• Take your time. Don’t just fire off ten questions, listen impatiently to the answers, say thanks and leave. This will leave many people feeling used—quite the opposite impression from what you intended. Instead, allow plenty of time and converse in a relaxed fashion. Take time out for small talk and digressions; digressions are great, as they indicate the person you’re speaking with is starting to feel relaxed around you. Also, some of the most interesting and useful bits of information can come from so-called digressions: for instance, that someone’s favorite aunt or uncle or grandparent was a progressive activist.

• Don’t forget to ask the person you’re speaking with not just what he thinks of your cause, but what he thinks about the opposition and opposing viewpoint. This is one of the best ways to uncover your opposition’s weaknesses and learn how to most clearly present those weaknesses to your audience.

• Listen to your audience not just at the beginning of a campaign but throughout it and on into the future. They’ll provide valuable ongoing feedback and help you stay on track. Remember that, even though it may not seem this way when you first meet them, you almost certainly have lots to learn from them as well. (That’s one of the joys and rewards of activism: befriending, and learning from, many different types of people.) Remember: your ultimate goal is not simply to sign people onto your cause, but to convert them into activists for your cause. Staying in touch with them as a mentor/coach/teacher/friend will facilitate that.

The next chapter offers some more tips to help you segment your market.

The 10% Off Rule and the Importance of Focusing on Just One Or Two Segments At A Time

A common mistake activists and salespeople make is to go after more than two market segments simultaneously. As I hope I’ve conveyed by now, it does take time and effort to market and sell well, but it’s an investment that pays off. It takes even more time and effort to market and sell excellently, but it’s an investment that pays off even more. When your marketing hits the center of the target—meaning, when you get the segmenting, message and delivery exactly right—you can make an astonishing number of sales and make them astonishingly easily. Be just ten percent “off,” however, and you’ve probably lost a lot of those sales and made the overall sales process much more difficult. I call that the 10% Off Rule.

Excellent marketing and sales pretty much mandate different materials and pitches for each segment you target. Even if two segments appear to be very similar, you will probably still need different materials and pitches, since, according to the 10% Off Rule, even a single less-than-apt word or image can cost you sales. More on this in the next chapter.

Because it will take a lot of time, energy and other resources to market and sell effectively into each segment, I recommend you confine your marketing and sales to no more than two segments at a time.

This instruction often scares novices. They think that by limiting their activities to such a seemingly small “slice” of the market they will miss out on lots of potential sales. The opposite is usually true, however: it’s the salespeople (and activists) who focus on one or two segments, and therefore have the time and resources to develop a fabulous strategy and materials targeted at those segments, who wind up making the most sales. In contrast, salespeople who try to sell to everyone frequently wind up making only a vague, generalized pitch that isn’t highly persuasive to anyone. Sure, they may win a few sales across a wide range of customers, but in the end they probably won’t make as many sales as their more focused colleagues.

Add to that argument the plain fact that most small and even some medium-sized organizations don’t have the money, time and other resources to do a good job at marketing and selling to more than two segments at a time. So, even if you’re skeptical about the value of keeping to one or two segments, give it a try.