Marketing success means being invited to the island | Schaefer Marketing Solutions

By Mark Schaefer

Earlier this year I vacationed in the Cycladic Islands of Greece. It was a thrilling trip and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

However, it also inspired a marketing lesson. Of course. I am so weird that way.

All of these islands were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago and have a similar landscape and climate. They are so close together that you can normally see neighboring islands from any ocean vista.

And yet, they are all so different! Over the years, each tiny island developed its own micro-culture of food, art, history, customs, and stories that are an endless source of local pride. You could visit 25 islands and find 25 fascinating micro-cultures.

And, that is a depiction of our modern customer world, as well.

The Like-Minded Islands

Like inhabitants of any small island, communication travels quickly, there is a strong shared history, bonds of trust, and a wariness of strangers. For fun, most people travel back and forth to nearby islands to visit friends with other shared interests.

Businesses are desperate to be invited to these clannish consumer islands. They’re convinced the islanders would buy their goods and services if they would only give them a chance.

In the days before the formation of the Like-Minded Islands, businesses loved mass marketing. This meant companies would:

  • Send unwanted newsletters
  • Litter the landscape with tons of direct mail pieces
  • Bother customers with endless email blasts
  • Interrupt their day with automated telephone calls
  • Spend millions of dollars on content customers are far too busy to read
  • Create snappy social media images hoping customers would “engage”
  • Interrupt their entertainment with repetitive ads

Now that the islanders are in control and can determine who can come on to their island, none of this works any more. Who would want that stuff? In fact, these clever islanders are even developing technology to block and drown-out every un-wanted interruption. Some of it still leaks through, but it’s only a matter of time that people will be able to peacefully live their lives without annoyances from bothersome marketers.

What should a marketer do? Some are still clinging to advertising and the old ways since they have done that for decades. It’s familiar. They may fly over the island with a banner ad hoping somebody will look up and notice. But by and large, things are far too busy and interesting on the island for anybody to care. It’s just noise.

Ask the islanders

  • Be a friend. Fit in and belong. Be useful.
  • Respect our time, our freedom, our privacy.
  • Come alongside us and be there when we need you.
  • Show us that you share our values, even if it makes you unpopular on other islands. If we’re going to be loyal to you, you have to be loyal to us.
  • Be a great neighbor and help us even when we’re down. Especially when we’re down.
  • Create some fun experiences that show us what life is like beyond our limited view of this island.
  • Don’t just tell us you’re great and you belong here. We want to see it — here and now on this island. That is the only thing we’ll believe.
  • Never, ever, interrupt us, annoy us, or show up uninvited. That’s just rude.

This is a pretty rational and realistic perspective, isn’t it? It suggests an approach to marketing that is sensitive to human values and community needs.

Our marketing is not our marketing

In this new consumer world, we’re no longer in control of any “sales funnel” or “customer journey.” The best we can hope for is to be part of a conversation that leads to an invitation to an island.

Marketing success on the islands

My view is that marketing is so expensive and ineffective for many companies because they’re clinging to the past, the top list.

Becoming “locked-in” to marketing tactics like these that may not work any longer might be due to outdated agency relationships, organizational resistance, cultural obstinance, lack of skilled leadership, relentless bureaucracy … or some combination of all these factors.

But the undeniable fact is, we must transcend whatever obstacles are in our way and adopt a radical new mindset because the customers are in control.

Welcome to the islands.

These ideas will be explored deeply in my forthcoming book “Marketing Rebellion” which will be published in February, 2019.

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for {grow}, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant. The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Original photo from Santorini by the author.

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Originally published at on September 24, 2018.

Keynote speaker, strategy consultant, Rutgers University marketing faculty and author of 9 books including KNOWN, Marketing Rebellion, and Cumulative Advantage.