The Marketing Fire
Marketing is a lot like building a fire (where the fire is your traction). The difficulty of starting the fire depends on your skill, the materials on hand, and the environment.
The skill component is relatively self explanatory. In both cases it’s about experience. Some people couldn’t make a fire with a forest full of trees and a gallon of gasoline. Others can rub two sticks together and start a fire that makes the world takes notice. You can study all you want about how to build a fire, but eventually you’ll need to go out and try it for yourself. It’s something you must learn by doing, so go out and try, try again like your life depended on it. The greater your expertise the more quickly you’ll be able to build new fires and the less time you’ll need to spend preparing materials before lighting it.
The rest of the marketing fire analogies is built on metaphors, so strap in and prepare for a little clunkiness going back and forth between building fires and attracting people to your content,
Build the Fire
Fuel – Content – Without content, there’s nothing to burn. You’ll never gain traction without content, because you’ll never be able to maintain a spark of interest. Some fuels last longer than others, but all are consumed eventually. You need to keep providing fresh content to the fire or the fire will go out.
Oxygen – Audience – You can’t build a fire in a vacuum. Your fire will only keep going as long as you continue to expose it to a steady stream of new customers. You can have all the perfect content in the world, but if you can’t get it in front of an audience you’ll never be able to get the fire started.
Environment – Market – Are you trying to start a fire during a monsoon of competition? Despite all your best efforts, it’s likely to never catch or fizzle out quickly. The differences between you and your competition are the differences between trying to start a fire in a monsoon and on a dry, sunny day. If there’s an untapped market, it may just take a spark to get a large flame.
Ignition source – You – You’re the one building the fire and you’re also the ignition source. You need to be the spark that starts the fire. Sometimes you’ll get the fire going in the first spark, but more likely you’ll need to keep trying using different techniques and environments. Even with poor materials and a bad environment, a stubborn ignition source will eventually start a fire if there’s fuel and oxygen, but it may create a high maintenance fire that’s always seconds from going out.
Fuel the Fire
Lighter Fluid – Paid Advertising – It starts a fire quickly, but it’s costly and unless you can capitalize on it, the fire will go out and your money will go up in smoke.
Newspaper – Highly Shareable, Low Quality Content – An example of this type of content would be something humorous, but without message or lasting interest. Similar to lighter fluid, it’s great for starting a fire if the rest of the content is already built up, but the fire will quickly go out without a pre-built base of quality content. It also requires knowledge and planning. You won’t start a fire by dropping burning newspaper onto a pile of logs (or your website) with newspaper you need to concentrate the heat in one targeted area to get the fire going.
Kindling – Highly Shareable, High Quality Content – Fantastic. You can easily start a fire and keep it going forever with this stuff, but it’s usually harder to gather. This makes a fire built only with kindling difficult to maintain. Like the other fuel sources so far, it’s best if you already have a baseline of solid content.
Wood – Content/Product – This is your base requirement for a solid fire and your base requirement for getting customers. Solid wood takes more heat to ignite, but results in a more reliable, lasting burn. Getting to this point is a landmark achievement as exponential growth is possible by simply adding more wood to the fire.
There are a few to look out for with wood. Be careful of content that is too green (cutting-edge). It takes time and a lot of kindling or newspaper to get the fire started. Often, the pioneer fire starters fail and the next group becomes successful by leveraging the remaining embers from their predecessors. Your content may also be too wet (low quality). It doesn’t matter the amount of damp wood you have on the pile. It’s not going to catch. Finally, if you start a fire in a competitive area realize that each piece of content will take more effort as the existing brush has already been gathered. You’ll either have to do something significantly better or approach the situation from a new angle. Slightly better won’t draw away entrenched customers.
Fan the Flames
Billows – News/Blog Articles, Sponsored Posts, etc. – Great for an extra boost while getting the fire started, but still dependent on the base content. Each person pushing a fresh audience into your content can make a major impact, but fanning the flames only works if there’s a solid fire built first.
Fan – Email Marketing – Get people interested in your product and keep sending them back to fresh content. This only work until the air gets stale, so reaching out to new audiences is still ideal.
This is an easy one to do poorly and ineffectively, so do some research on solid fan building strategies. Poor strategy is hand crafting each email blast with no funnels or campaigns. It’s like fanning the fire by waving your hands around. It takes a lot of effort without producing significant results. Good strategy is a pre-built campaign that directs your customers through an on-ramping experience and reroutes them based on their interactions. It’s like building an electric fan. It takes more research, planning, and fine-tuning to create, but once built can produce great results with just routine maintenance.
Steady Wind – Search Engine Optimization – What could be better than a steady flow of organic traffic to your site? Good SEO brings great traffic, but remains unpredictable and uncontrollable. You can build great content, but it’s all up to the whims of mother Google whether the great winds of traffic will blow your way or suddenly change direction. Like a superstitious sailor, do whatever you can to appease the gods of SEO, but remain self-reliant and build out your other marketing tools.
Enlist the Populace
Pass the Torch – Social Media/Viral Marketing – You built your fire, fueled the flames, and fanned them into a bonfire. Now, it’s time to scorch the earth. First, you need content that people want to share. Then, you need to convince them that they’re getting something out of it. That can be the pride of being an early adopter, a desire to be associated with your brand, or a direct reward in the form of a digital product.
Think of it like the old Tom Sawyer fence painting tale. You have to convince your users that painting the fence for you is rewarding. Neither painting fences nor sharing content is inherently fun. It all comes down to the mindset. The brilliance of Tom Sawyer wasn’t that he tricked others into doing something for him. His genius was his ability to pitch a dull activity as an enjoyable experience. Once you do that, you’ll have users passing torches and building smaller fires on their own causing your fire to spread wildly.
How do you construct a fire? What different types are there? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments.