An e-mail arrived today with an invitation to attend a networking breakfast scheduled for 6.45a.m. in a nearby hotel. The supporting data made impressive claims for the number of business leads such events had already generated elsewhere and concluded with the exhortation to bring plenty of business cards. The underlying theory, presumably to provide a face-to-face business exchange, is, at first, one that is not easy to square with the marketing concept of identifying your target market and then the target audience you need to address with your proposition.
The assumption might be that the target market is other local business people, which may work well if that is the full extent your target market, but if you operate in a niche global market it may attract just a tiny portion of your potential audience. But what it does raise is the whole issue of recommendation, something we are familiar with at a local level. People are happy to recommend a good plumber, a dentist or a good service experience from a local garage and this form of ‘word of mouth’ marketing is extremely valuable. Personal recommendation is far more powerful than a manufacturer’s own claim and if that third party endorsement comes from a respected person in the market, then it enjoys credibility.
This support can be utilised through news placement, case studies and use of attributable quotations. Having opinion leaders endorse your products or services also builds trust quickly and the advice they dispense is a powerful marketing tool. Recently there have been references to a concept claiming ‘you are only six degrees of separation from anybody else in the planet’, implying that through six friends of friends a message will reach everyone. Certainly within most industries news, good or bad, travels faster than you might imagine and with the Internet the exponential speed of virus dispersion is demonstrably rapid.
A concept known as ‘viral marketing’ has been defined as ‘any strategy that encourages individuals to pass on a marketing message to others, creating the potential for exponential growth in the message's exposure and influence.’ A classic example was how Hotmail propagated so quickly, by giving away a free e-mail address and service, promoted by a tag line on every e-mail users sent to an increasing and widening circle of friends and associates. Then came Facebook that didn't appear to start with any conventional marketing and of course Linked-In is the online version that saves attending early breakfast meetings!
So whether it is ‘viral marketing’, ‘word of mouth’ or ‘networking’, the ability to influence your target audience through others is an important marketing device.