Is ‘fishing’ a good metaphor for marketing?

Fishing where the fish are pays off

Many times we have made a simple statement when discussing how to approach marketing planning with a new client: “When you go fishing, it is best to fish where the fish are.” Seems like a no-brainer. So how about we take the metaphor further in approaching planning to marketing?

What this metaphor will illustrate is the difference between just throwing out something to get numbers of respondents — regardless to qualifications — compared to focusing on reaching qualified respondents that are interested in the offer because they are your target market. In other words, fishing where the fish are. In the first example, you don’t know or care if they are a potential customer. You are just glad to put them into your response rate report and hope a percentage have an interest. (Not the approach we follow, by the way.) However, in the second, you can target it in pretty tightly and provide real expectations on ROI.

So let me get metaphorical on you: If you are not passionate about fishing, then you are happy to just catch fish. Any fish. You don’t care what kind of fish you catch, good to eat or not. More often than not, you don’t even know what kind of fish exist where you plan to cast your line. Simple numbers and the act of catching is enough to satisfy you, because you don’t really like fishing all that much. It is something to do while at a lake or drinking a beer with some friends in  a boat somewhere.

This type of fishing usually involves using some kind of cut bait or live bait, a bobber and an approach to fishing that is akin to brainless. You just throw it out there with no style, direction or finesse, in the hopes that something, anything will come along and grab it. You are always surprised by what comes up and wonder “what is it?” and don’t get too excited when you do get one. In most cases, you are very disappointed and make a statement like, “There ain’t no fish in this water at all.” Which is true, in terms of where you threw your line and what you put on the end of your hook!

Now, a passionate fisherperson takes an entirely different approach. We study the region and the reports weeks before we set out. We talk to knowledgeable people or outfitters about the area as we buy the right gear in advance. We look at reports of past and present times. We know the target quarry we are after before we go, and are prepared to understand any other fish that might also come along. And we respect each one and take pains to understand them.

Once our research is done on the location and the waters from afar, we arrive to look at the scene in person. We study the water, the riffles, the bends in the river, the structures in the lake, bay or ocean. We look at the bait patterns and understand the lunar and solar cycles to set our expectations of the coming campaign.

We make educated attempts to throw the right lures, flies and other gear that might attract and catch our intended fish. We pay special attention to the correct rods and reels to best manage the lures and line weights we plan to use. And before we send anything out, we take pains to know and learn what knots best hold it all together. Finally, we practice so we can make changes to our approach while in action.

Next, we put it all into play with a plan of action. Try this lure at this location for 20 casts. No action? Then switch to the next one that has promise. Still no action? Move to a new spot, that riffle over there and try this other pattern. That’s it! That’s the right combination! Now we have the right location, pattern, gear and action to attract and land the fish we want and covet.

Talk about rewarding! All the planning, education and practice paid off. We set out to catch our limit and thanks to our process, it worked again. (Hard work is rewarded in fishing and in marketing.)

Finally, we know what to do with what we catch. What is the legal size we can keep? What is the limit? How best to prepare if we take home? How do we safely return it back to the water if we are releasing? That was all part of the preparation. No wasted time or energy. It is a process with proven results.

In general, it is a professional, passionate approach.

Well, that fishing metaphor fits perfectly with marketing planning. While it can sound a bit crass in direct comparison, in reality it just means taking a caring, thoughtful approach to reach the correct person that we want to introduce to our message and product offer.

Unlike in fishing, however, we don’t plan to eat them or let them go! Instead, we know that what we want to do is to provide them the good or service we offer because it is something they want or need. We did not waste our time or their time because we knew if they responded to our thoughtful plan and messaging, we would have a symbiotic relationship. Unlike just throwing out some cut bait and hoping we got a few fish that might work out if we caught enough of them, we did the right thing for our business and the consumer. And we were rewarded.

We do love fishing with intent and passion. Just as we love marketing with intent and passion. It is what drives us every day. Oh, and the great dinner and beer at the end of the day is nice, too.


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